To Be Still, the new record by Alela Diane, has provided the soundtrack to my week (briefly along with that of the entire “serious” level of the library on one occasion) so I thought it only appropriate to review it. As the follow-up to the The Pirate’s Gospel, I must say To Be Still subverts all but the one expectation that it will be brimming with whimsical excellence. The haunting archaism and prevailing cynicism of the former are all but lost (thankfully along with the creepy choral effects of ‘Pieces of String’), and the rustic antiquarian furniture has been polished up to a sheen.
A rather curious choice for an opener, ‘Dry Grass and Shadows’ would perhaps be more at home on a Fleetwood Mac album as the long-lost sibling of ‘Albatross,’ although with the exception of the slightly absent-minded slide begins a rather pleasant horseback ride through the mountains. Having first heard ‘White as Diamonds’ as part of an ancient Daytrotter Session I couldn’t have anticipated a finer version. Alela’s characteristic acoustic finger picking is carried along by an ambling cello and whistling violin, maintaining the steady trekking rhythm, despite wobbling a little in the middle. ‘Age Old Blue’ would, I think, work better without the werewolf accompaniment and is definitely a trundle through an arid valley, and ‘To Be Still’ without the Hawaiian feel. ‘Take Us Back’ thankfully does what it says on the tin, and recovers quite spectacularly with the aid of a witty string arrangement. The ambling resumes through ‘The Alder Trees’ and ‘My Brambles’ hitting only the occasional thorny patch. I’m not sure about ‘The Ocean’ beyond a certain surprise that the mandolin and banshee combination works so well. Lyrically, ‘Every Path’ is a highlight, but even that can’t compare to the delicate fashioning of ‘Tatted Lace’, engulfing one like mist in the wind. The journey ends with an encounter with ‘Lady Divine’, the maturity of which shows just how far Alela has travelled.