Her approach not only widens the genre to something more illuminating, but it contributes to Alela's already remarkable range within a style that has proven limiting to other artists.
Since teaching herself guitar less than 10 years ago, Diane has evolved into a polished musician and frequent traveler. Currently touring with Fleet Foxes, her songwriting is influenced by faraway glimpses into places and lives she does not inhabit. This experience certainly benefits her innate skill as a storyteller, though it also allows for too many meals and cups of coffee at, as her Twitter feed indicates, "shitholes like Dennys and Cracker Barrel... :(." No one can escape the blandness of travel across the middle of nowhere, but one hopes that it is at these tables where Alela occasionally gleans small moments of inspiration and clarity to weave into her songs.
Alela's full length label debut, 2006's The Pirate Gospel, sounds like a raw collection of demos from a surprisingly sophisticated talent. This album drew the first comparisons to friend Joanna Newsom, an association that continued with 2009's To Be Still and is only just beginning to wane. In 2011, Alela joined her guitarist/husband Tom Bevitori, second guitarist/father Tom Menig, bassist Jonas Haskins, and drummer Jason Merculief to form an official collaboration called Wild Divine.
The latest album, 2011's Alela Diane and Wild Divine, displays the quiet confidence and impressive range of a now well-toured artist who, according to her website bio, remained at home for nearly a year to write these songs. "To Begin” is the first track and especially recalls Bella Donna-era Stevie Nicks in its earthy, collaborative Laurel Canyon style of composition. Later tracks rely more on the slide guitars and soulful twang of country folk, but a more keenly-developed interpretation on the style that more longtime fans have enjoyed since The Pirate's Gospel.
At times, her songs evoke miles of road and tumbleweeds blowing outside of rest stop cafes. At others, her haunting voice and evocative strings seem almost gothic. Her voice is sweet, to be sure, but Alela's gift is expression, and she frequently turns her voice prettily ragged for emphasis. This comes across as both introspective and conversational, and refreshingly natural. She is not hokey and she is not weird, but she is strange, smart, and gorgeously brilliant, capable of creating subtly maturing albums with (hopefully) uncalculated grace.
Alela Diane will appear with Fleet Foxes at the Pageant on Tuesday, July 19.