Release Date: Jul 30, 2013
Record label: Burnside
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Following a series of good, if not quite great LPs, EPs, and singles, Alela Diane has released the best album of her career in 2013, the wonderful About Farewell. With her new album, Diane has greatly improved her ability to write about familial and relationship tension in a manner that’s simultaneously unique to her and comfortingly familiar to us. From the beginning of opening track Colorado Blue, we’re introduced to beautiful guitar work and Diane’s heartfelt, deep vocal performance, something more stripped down than her earlier output.
The gorgeously intimate new Alela Diane album is difficult to classify. Her unadorned voice takes center stage to sparse acoustic instrumental arrangements. Is this country folk or torch song jazz, adult contemporary or art song? The answer doesn’t really matter as much as the fact that this is truly a marvelous creation. The record’s only failing is that it clocks in at a mere 33 minutes in length.
The first widely available release by the Nevada City-born singer/songwriter Alela Diane was a 2006 edition of The Pirate's Gospel. That record appeared in the wake of breakthrough releases by artists such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom and, as a result, shared the quirks and eccentricities of many other so-called freak folk albums of the time. Three albums on, although the songs that make up About Farewell were written during and after the ending of her seven-year relationship with Denver co-founder Tom Bevitori, here Diane betrays an assured, calm, confident, and marginally deeper-toned vocal throughout which barely resembles her Newsom-inspired delivery of The Pirate's Gospel.
Alela Diane's fifth album bids a gracious goodbye to love and youth. It's a snapshot of the Portland singer's spirit 10 years since her debut release and raw from her divorce with husband and collaborator, Tom Bevitori. Following 2011's joyous Alela Diane & Wild Divine, it recalls the melancholy of her earlier albums, running through the full spectrum of breakup emotions: retracing memories on Colorado Blue, propping up the bar during I Thought I Knew and floating in dizzy isolation on Lost Land.
The “stripped-down break-up record” is one of the most well-worn tropes in singer-songwriterdom. But on About Farewell, her fourth record, Alela Diane comes by her romantic devastation honestly. The Portland-based folkie was last heard on 2011’s excellent Alela Diane & Wild Divine, where she was backed by a crack band equally conversant in soul, country, and 1970s SoCal soft-rock.
Three years ago, soon after marrying guitarist Tom Bevitori, Alela Diane released her fourth album, ‘Alela Diane & Wild Divine’. Wild Divine were her backing band, Bevitori was part of it, and including them in the title signaled Diane’s intent to move away from the acoustic guitar music of her early albums, and into a full band setup. The Californian was no longer alone in producing her art.Diane and Bevitori’s relationship has since fallen apart, and ‘About Farewell’ tells the full story of that and other fallouts.
The loss of love is such a useful catalyst for songwriting, musicians should be contractually obliged to break up with someone every three years. The latest folk singer stitching up her bleeding innards with acoustic guitar strings is Alela Diane, a vintage-clad Californian alto. Her fourthcorrect, country-tinged album is no mere musical mope, but features writerly vignettes and restrained introspection.
The most devastating thing Alela Diane sings on her new album — and there are many — goes like this: “I heard somebody say / That the brightest lights / Cast the biggest shadows / So honey, I’ve got to let you go.” That comes from “About Farewell,” the title track of the album, which addresses the heartache and renewal that trail a failed marriage. After a pair of records that amplified her aesthetic more along the lines of rustic country, her latest is a return to simpler forms, a testament to the power of an acoustic guitar backing an artist with something to say (and with a voice you’d expect from a saloon singer). At times the songs are so visceral, you almost feel sheepish knowing so intimately what Diane endured.
You know what pop’s like these days; singers sounding identical, their voices lacking any engaging or distinguishing quality. Sometimes, however, a voice comes across as so effortless, so natural, so possessive of a quality that could never, ever be taught. Laura Marling, Sharon Van Etten and the Söderberg sisters of First Aid Kit all possess this trait, and so does Alela Diane.