I’ve been listening to Alela Diane a lot of late; she has a voice that repays a lot of listening. It’s straighter than Joanna Newsom’s, but twistier and rootsier than Rachael Dadd’s. A beautiful river voice running over a bed of flinty stones, and to judge from the subject of ‘Oh! My mama’ and what little I know about her, one that she has been encouraged to use almost from birth in a musical family where to sing was as natural as to talk. And so she sing sing sing sing sing sings melodies, having no doubt put in close on the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell reckons is the minimum to be great in any field.
As well as her two solo albums and her EP of traditional or traditional-sounding songs with Alina Hardin, she takes the lead vocals on the Headless Heroes’ collection of cover versions, where interpretations of ‘Just like honey’ (yes, the now twenty-five year old Jim & William Reid chestnut) and I Am Kloot’s ‘To you’ rub shoulders with songs rescued from the sixties like Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues run the game’ and Linda Perhacs’ ‘Hey, who really cares?’ This middle quartet of songs on The silence of love is as fine a run of covers as you’ll come across – and the rest of the record is not far off that standard, particularly when at the last Alela hits and holds the high notes on ‘See my love’, another rescued nugget written by Pamela Polland and originally recorded by the duo of which she was one half, the Gentle Soul.
It’s worth seeking out her two Daytrotter sessions, as songs from The pirate’s gospel benefit from her voice being in better shape than it was three years earlier when they were recorded, while those from her second long player sound more striking in solo acoustic renderings – To be still is not quite as still as it ideally might be, with overegged instrumentation now and again distracting attention from the wonders of the singing and the poetic clarity of the writing.
One or other guise would be enough in itself, but that her voice works so well in both settings suggests an adventuring spirit that may well take her and us to many other musical places worth visiting.