Now here's a lovely surprise. A singer-songwriter who hails from Nevada City, California, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon, Alela Diane Menig has a voice that seems far older than her early-twenty-something years. This version of her second album has been newly mastered, slightly truncated, and resequenced: the changes are all for the better. But if you've not heard her before, that's cool; her early releases were all on her own CD-R label. Her sing-songy tunes are honest and earthy, her diction intense and mannered but never pretentious. It's hard to believe this crisp recording was made in a home studio. The songs--plaintive vocals accompanied by a slight guitar and backing vocals, often little else--seem situated perfectly between the parlor and the campfire. Alela's a talented vocalist, in the vein of Josephine Foster, Regina Spektor, and Jolie Holland. At times she even approaches the heights of Karen Dalton and Joni Mitchell. More soon, please! --Mike McGonigal
Review by Ned Raggett
First released in 2004 as a private CD-R run then later re-released formally in 2006, the softly spooked-out acid folk of The Pirate's Gospel is a captivating debut from Alela Diane, whose enthusiasm and ability for a then-extremely-fresh learner on guitar is quite something. Recorded by her father, who also helps perform on many tracks along with other friends and family members, the disc showcases Alela Diane's knack for gentle, immediate melodies and her fine voice, possessed of a hint of twang that suggests a combination of Dusty Springfield and Kristin Hersh, with a rich maturity beyond her years. The high and lonesome catch on songs like "Foreign Tongue" and "Clickity Clack" is quite something, while the interplay of vocals and guitar on the latter is particularly beautiful. Like her contemporary Larkin Grimm, she brings older forms of music to life with vivid performances, sometimes striking imagery, and a love for surprising little touches, such as the line "And a choir of little children sing along" from "Pieces of String," which is, indeed, sung by two young kids. The title track may just be the standout among them all with its low, moody backing vocals and an appropriate hint of sea shanty atmosphere in the chorus, while guest banjo from Matt Gottschalk adds a further tinge of mysteriousness. It's important to note that the 2006 version of the album differs greatly from the private release -- the sequencing is somewhat altered, while a number of tracks are dropped, and a separate one, "Can You Blame the Sky?," is added. Both versions of the album are excellent but the earlier CD-R release is worth seeking out if one enjoys the later edition, especially for such fine songs as "Gypsy Eyes" and "Heavy Walls."