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original site launched April 1, 2004, .com relaunched October 1, 2004

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editor's note
Alela Diane
The Pirate’s Gospel
(Holocene Music)
by Sara Huguenard

You know those '60s/'70s movies that portray hippies who are seemingly so out of it that they would probably be dancing just as fervently to the hum of a refrigerator as they would the disjointed psychedelic folk music playing on the soundtrack? That is about as close as I could come to a proper analogy for Alela Diane’s music. There isn’t much wrong with the symphonic elements of her compositions, however basic the melodies may be. Her voice is rich and full, and the genre is undeniable. But the writing is so disjointed and, well, senseless, that the music all but loses what it needs to “click” with the listener. For example, more than half of the songs on the album are written in the same manner of prose:

First line
Repeat first line
Second line
Repeat second line

This quickly becomes not only annoying, but distracting. Further overpowering the music’s presence are the regular disconnect between lyric and melody: telling a pirate’s story through southern folk tune or pairing upbeat poetry with melancholy orchestration (“Clickety Clack”). And then to compound it all in one final blow to the ability one may have to develop a passion for what they are hearing: there is nothing to indicate that the musician’s words are anything more than random and not fashioned out of any experience close to her. 

This is not to say that Alela Diane’s debut is an entire loss. Near the end of the album we are treated to a couple of particularly well-crafted pieces, “Sister Self” and “Pigeon Song,” both of which show a strength nearly comparable to those of any current folk artists of note on the scene, before slipping unfortunately back into the predictably trippy-stoned disorientation from whence it came in its finale. 

After reading the artist’s bio, it isn’t really surprising that what Ms. Diane has produced is exactly what it is, as it would appear that she led a bit of an odd/ bohemian upbringing with her musician parents. Unfortunately, it is difficult to believe that there are enough black tight and turtleneck, beret-wearing, finger-snapping-in-appreciation tripper/stoners out there today who would “dig” this type of offering to provide a solid market. 

However underground the folk music scene has been in the past forty or so years, there are quite a few groups that have gained a solid following in the modern day by honing the genre and creating some really beautiful, intelligent music. But quite frankly, The Pirate’s Gospel does not fall within those ranks; sounding instead like a novelty--an album found on a dusty old coffee-house turntable--whose time had come and gone long ago.

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