Singer-songwriter Alela Diane has a rich, gossamer voice that can pull off yodel-like shifts in pitch, reach down to a bluesy, throaty sound, and draw out round vowels like a jazz singer. It’s impressive enough on its own; deployed in the service of her vivid, hauntingly hopeful folk-rock songs, it’s downright entrancing.
Diane has made a name for herself in France as a singer of mostly spare, poetic folk music. Now settling down in Portland, she has steeped herself in a fuller, deeper pop sound adorned with tasteful flourishes of Americana—but lacking any of the attendant clichés. She comes by her rustic roots by osmosis rather than affectation.
Her songs brim with natural and emotive imagery, and they are suffused with a sense of mystery and wonder that sometimes turns dark but never despairing. Fans of smart modern songstresses like Neko Case and Laura Veirs will find much to like here—but so might those old schoolers who tend more toward Sandy Denny territory.
“This is music, this is madness / Clear the room,” Alela Diane sings on “Suzanne.” No thanks. We’ll stick around.
This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.