Alela Diane, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Tuesday 22 September 2009
In the true tradition of folk, singer-songwriter Alela Diane's shows are a family affair. Her father Tom Menig plays guitar and mandolin, while her boyfriend is the bassist.
This, Diane tells us, is their 97th gig, and we get a glimpse of what it must be like touring with your dad. As Menig interrupts his 26-year-old daughter's reminiscence of an earlier gig with a gentle correction, Diane rebukes, into the mic: "My dad just assumes I don't know anything. He's right beside me to remind me." But there's an element of tenderness that the familial bonds add to Diane's folk tales. As their acoustic guitars interweave in the delicate "Tatted Lace", father and daughter face each other, smiling. And their encore "Lady Divine", is all the more touching for being a duet between them.
Since the February release of Diane's second album To Be Still, Diane has become one of folk's fastest-rising stars, as an appearance on Jools Holland only last week attests. Originating from the same bohemian community of Nevada City, California as Joanna Newsom (in fact, her first solo performance was at Newsom's invitation), she has joined a growing psych-folk scene that includes Newsom, Devendra Banhart and Grizzly Bear.
With a voice and talent calling to mind Joni Mitchell, Diane lays bare her folk roots with a rousing cover of "Matty Groves". It's her pure vocals and ability to inhabit her comforting songs through her passionate delivery that captivate an attentive crowd. Her voice is paired perfectly with the sugar-sweet harmonising of backing singer Alina Hardin with whom she releases an EP next month. Another song, "The Rake", from the forthcoming EP is pretty, but lacking bite. Also, the beautiful melancholic "White As Diamonds" misses the plaintive violin of its recording.
But it's the variation of Diane's musical palette – the dark emotional thrust behind "The Rifle", with its shadowy lyrics ("Brother I'm so sorry that you watched the paintings burn") revealing bitter emotions at her parents' divorce, and "The Ocean" whose foreboding drum opening sets the sinister tone to her echoing vocals and Menig's quivering mandolin – that offers a counterbalance to the overriding sweetness.
It is only a shame the venue is not more full. I can't think why; Diane has melodies and a voice so pure as to rival all her peers, and gain her an enduring place on the folk music canon.
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