"I caught a plane to Denver - your eyes had turned to stone."
The opening track for Alela Diane’s fifth full-length, About Farewell, is a farewell. A winter’s-gone-by reminiscence of you thinking about her, leaving me in the snow, the sort of melancholy low-lit melody that fans of Diane’s early work are bound to praise as a return to roots, a coming full circle. But this record’s plain-stated heartache is anything but a rekindling of old flames and reliable fingerpicking.
You could be forgiven for dropping a casual needle on this one and thinking it’s a Pirate’s Gospel outtakes session. The minor keys are again in vogue, and Diane’s boozed croons are similarly tear-ready, but there’s a certain sorrow-bred maturity here that makes these songs sound more resilient than forlorn.
The story goes something like her ex-husband, lover, whatever, and Wild Divine bandmate up and left, struck some nerves after the chords wouldn’t cut it anymore and got the hell out of Dodge. I’m not sure; I’m not a biographer, that’s not what’s happening here. But I do know the Dodge in 2011 was a place where Diane and her sunny-south (rainy northwest) folkrock band laid down some of the most easily grooving good times jams this side of Lonestar Lowlands. Diane was then some sort of grunge-reared reincarnation of Emmylou, echoes of pedal steel and twang slipping in here and there, but the tunes still sounding more a companion to apartment dinner parties than boot-scootin. Wet eyes wedged between the jangling.
At first listen you’d think About Farewell is the ultimate downer; but again, resiliency. Whatever loving struggles built the backbone of these songs, they built something noticeably tougher. The somber in Diane’s voice here is rough-and-tumble. I headed south on the highway five,my head was pounding, I was bleary-eyed she sings on ‘Hazel Street,’ a kind of chant-filled recollection of running from basements, through kitchens, into the street, emotions peaking. Diane’s voice manages to make simple pictures from an impassioned night sound like the harshest of go-to-hell's - Late that night behind the bar, we surely knew how to play the part of lovers it was nothing new; I woke up drunk on that basement floor, and then you asked how I would read the score if you asked me to marry you.
I don’t like singer-songwriters. Some people probably call Alela Diane a singer-songwriter, and I get that. She sings about cigarettes. She’s delicate. She sings lines like I’m a lost land in the blue, and writes songs called ‘Nothing I Can Do.’ This record is called About Farewell. But her voice fills small rooms with patience, and the cellos that hover in the recesses of this record paint themselves along without promising anything profound. Easy real.