The Pirates Gospel
Alela Menig, whose stage name is Alela Diane, has quickly made a name for herself, locally and nationally, in very short order. There is a reason for this. She’s great. Possessed of a thousand year-old soul and a voice only a few years younger, Alela writes and sings songs that come from another era, possibly not from this dimension, but certainly not from any source extant in the popular music oeuvre for the past thirty, forty years or so. Her stuff is hootenanny hay and campfire smoke. Woodstove dry. Barley brown and gold. Hickory supple.
Her brief, twenty-four year history has been catalogued elsewhere locally. Suffice it to say that she grew up in a musical family in Nevada City, Nevada (home to fellow “psych folkies” Joanna Newsom and Mariee Sioux- who contributes backing vocals on several tracks here) and only recently moved to Portland, for no good reason. Oh, of course she had every good reason. What musician wouldn’t want to come to Portland to seek fame and fortune? The city is a goldmine for musicians. Ask any one of them. They’ll tell you. Sure. A goldmine!
Those familiar with Newsom’s birdlike voice, may find a certain “antique” similarity in Alela’s on the opening track “My Tired Feet.” It’s a darker voice, a little deeper- but maintains an inflection and aura that is similar. Anyone familiar with Coloradoan Josephine Foster’s odd body work will find a kindred spirit here- although different. All of these singers reference traditional folk singers- ie Jean Ritchie, Peggy Seeger, Rosalie Sorrels, etc; but each adds a colorful new spin of her own to the mix.
Edie Brickell comes faintly to mind on “The Rifle.” Sioux’s smooth harmony vocals (joined later by Jeff Thorsby, Ryan Schwartz and Alela’s 8 year old cousin Miranda) add a silken texture to Alela’s solitary electric guitar accompaniment. Matt Gottschalk- who also plays banjo on the track- and her father Tom Menig back Alela vocally on the title track: a mournful, minor key shanty. The bluesy “Foreign Tongue, “ has its roots in a song such as “House Of The Rising Sun” but Alela’s confident vocal and well-hewn lyrics make of the piece her own. Somber and contemplative, “Can You Blame The Sky” features Schwartz on mandolin and Sioux and several others on backing vocals.
The pensive and poignant “Pieces Of String” almost sounds as if Joanna Newsom is singing on it- as Cousin Miranda Menig and 5 year-old Kaleb Wilbourne vocally back Alela. “Clickity Clack” over brims with similar introspection ; solemn and mournful in a frankly intrinsic way. Papa Tom adds tasty slide guitar licks to “Sister Self,” a moody song, which calls to mind some of the brooding works of middle-period Tim Buckley. A clever little Cotton-picked electric guitar riff propels “Pigeon Song,” as Alela summons a darker voice from deep within- a sense of maturity behind her thoughtful lyrics. Finally, “Oh! My Mama,” tells a wonderful sad story with tender simplicity.
Alela Diane is the real article. She sings from the heart, straightforward folk songs that seem captured from some antique other time that never existed, but should have. It exists now, if only in Alela’s heart and soul- but it is a land to which one should journey, often. A wonderful album and a budding new talent of unique distinction.