Yesterday’s playlist provoked a bunch of requests from a few of you, requesting more info about the new things from Bon Iver, Six Organs Of Admittance, Arbouretum and Alela Diane (the Neil Young presence is caused by an Uncut staffer buying a bunch of CDs on the cheap, incidentally, rather than any new reissue campaign. Looks like “Toast” has slipped off the schedules again, by the way, while we’re on the subject of Neil’s capricious archives management).

Yesterday’s playlist provoked a bunch of requests from a few of you, requesting more info about the new things from Bon Iver, Six Organs Of Admittance, Arbouretum and Alela Diane (the Neil Young presence is caused by an Uncut staffer buying a bunch of CDs on the cheap, incidentally, rather than any new reissue campaign. Looks like “Toast” has slipped off the schedules again, by the way, while we’re on the subject of Neil’s capricious archives management).



I’ll try and get round to all these in the next week or so, but I’m going to start today with Alela Diane’s second, “To Be Still”. I’ve been enjoying this one very much for a month or so now, but I’ve also been struggling to write about it. It’s a lovely, silvery record which doesn’t easily welcome analysis, I guess.

Diane, anyway, is a singer-songwriter from Nevada City, California, also the hometown of Joanna Newsom. Her first album from 2006, “The Pirate’s Gospel”, never made much of an impact here, seeming to be one of the less characterful and substantial manifestations of the whole acid-folk boom or whatever. Similarly, the Headless Heroes covers album that she fronted last year passed me by pretty quickly, with a collection of great songs treated, it seemed at the time, in a fairly hygienised, chill-out style.

In the wake of “To Be Still”, it occurs I should revisit both of those records. For a start, the whole acid-folk/Joanna Newsom angle looks like a bit of a red herring. Diane has clearly got a decent working knowledge of British folk (like Marissa Nadler, not a bad contemporary reference point), but she’s musically straighter, organically tapped into an American tradition celebrated by the likes of Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland, maybe even Neko Case (very psyched to hear her new album, of course).

Consequently, there’s an easy, elegaic grace to most of the 11 songs here, at once warmly and sparely arranged, suffused with mild yearning. Plenty of records like this work very hard to synthesise a kind of instinctual, homely, let’s-jam-in-the-lounge vibe, but songs like “Dry Grass And Shadows”, “Every Path” and the title track pull it off better than most. It’s all about a kind of discreet virtuosity, crisply produced by Diane and her father Tom Menig, played by a crowd of their old friends – including a terrific pedal-steel man called Pete Grant, who reputedly taught Jerry Garcia how to play the instrument.

This morning I started reading a book called “The Wild Trees”, about the giant redwoods of Northern California, up around Mendocino county and towards the Oregon border. It’s one of my favourite places, and Alela Diane’s music also makes me nostalgic for the area, where it feels like the original hippies have become a sort of genteel establishment, so much so that Diane’s feel (perhaps erroneously and sentimentally, I must admit) like the latest generation to inherit the best of ‘60s cultural and social thinking. Nice record, regardless.