Tonight comes with an odd sense of dislocation – the solo artist on stage bears the glow of a five-month pregnancy if not the bump, while singing mostly about heartbreak and separation. A lot has happened in the two years since Alela Diane's last album, the country-swinging Alela Diane & Wild Divine, notably divorce and engagement to a new feller. The north Californian has yet to reveal if this fiancée is another musician, something you wonder about as she takes the stage to perform solo.
For her most personal work to date, About Farewell, set for release later this month, Diane has chosen the DIY route, necessitating perhaps a more minimal touring package. Yet as on her previous three albums, family ties remain a constant focus, in her writing if not the artist's musical collaborations - previously both her father and former husband took key roles in her backing band. Maybe not coincidence, then, that About Farewell comes with a more austere palette similar to earlier releases that matches the break-up related content, as Diane mulls over painful memories rather than letting out fierce catharsis.
On the record sophisticated, if understated, arrangements accentuate the parallels her thoughtful lyrics have with Joni Mitchell, though with tonight's one-woman set-up you find yourself drawn further into the subtleties of her outlook during a set chiefly built around new material. Such is Diane's measured view of her back story that only supple songwriting prevents the night from becoming repetitive. There is the clear-eyed confessional of About Farewell's title track, 'Hazel Street' brings detailed narrative, while the allusions to nature on 'Rose & Thorn' provide a deep, timeless quality that tie these numbers to her best-loved earlier work.
All this she recounts in her trademark cool, authoritative voice. While Diane ranges widely lyrically, her delivery only sometimes delineates the light and shade of a writer keen not to offer easy answers. Likewise, her finger-picking often sticks to the functional, adding little beyond the occasional flourish of liquid, flowing notes. Forays into firm down-stroke strumming or shifts of the capo bring limited variety, a regime that finally shows its worth on a closing run of more familiar numbers, notably when facing forest-born fears in 'The Rifle' and the final lullaby to her unborn child 'Oh! My Mama', a celebration of passing on wisdom that like the best songs of childhood, comes suffused with its own sense of melancholy.