Reviews

Diana JonesDiana Jones
Album: Live In Concert
Label: Proper
Tracks: 19
Website: http://www.dianajonesmusic.com

She may not have the same high profile, but Jones is well respected for her work in the Appalachian tradition, her seven studio albums earning her critical acclaim and a devoted following. This is her first live collection and, while not quite the career spanning retrospective the PR claims (there's nothing here from her first two albums), the 19 tracks do dig deep into the most requested songs from her releases since 2006's breakthrough, 'My Remembrance of You'.

As I'm reviewing from a promo copy, I can't say whether the finished version offers any information as to when and where the different recordings were made, but, judging by the sound of the applause they seem to come from both large and more intimate venues.

One of the highlights of the aforementioned album, joining a show part way in, the traditional folk styled 'Willow Tree' gets things underway, setting the template of just Jones' high lonesome vocals and guitar accompanied by Beau Stapleton on either mandolin or tenor guitar. The album contributes the bulk of the selections, yielding a further five numbers, two of which strike sober notes of mortality, 'My Beloved' with its lines about angels come to claim their children home and a stunning a capella rendition of 'Cold Grey Ground' sung in the voice of a southerner asking to be taken to the red clay hills of home for burial

However, to my ears, the best of this particular bunch has to be 'Pony', her moving song about a Native American girl removed from the reservation and placed in a white settlement school, dreaming at night of riding with her father, a song that echoes the forced resettlement of Aboriginal children in Australia as well as chiming with her adoption.

Of the other numbers, 'Better Times Will Come' and 'High Atmosphere' both account for five and songs, respectively. From the former comes the mandolin driven trad flavours of 'Evangelina' and the upbeat keening country title track with Stapleton on harmonies, both solid performances, as well as another death song, 'The Day I Die', her intro to which references the passing of three of her influences, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Levon Helm. However, the honours have to be shared between the waltzing lament 'Appalachia', which, like her passionate introduction, addresses the strip mining that's torn the area apart, and the haunting narrative 'Henry Russell's Last Words', inspired by a letter to his wife from a victim of the 1927 Everettville, West Virginia, mine explosion, scratched out in coal on a torn paper bag.

From 'High Atmosphere' we get the shantyish 'Rain And Cold' (only ever previously available as a bonus track on some editions of the album), the breezy fingerpicked 'Don't Forget Me', a plaintive letter home from a prisoner awaiting for his parole plea to be heard and, just to keep up the death quota, the fatalistic 'I Told The Man' which merges the image of a man being lowered down into a coal mine and his grave. It also yields my personal Jones favourite, a shouted out audience request for the John Prine-like break up heartache of 'Drug For This'.

The remaining tracks are all hitherto unrecorded numbers; the, as she says, deceptively titled bittersweet 'Happiness', from a New York writing workshop, the melody line of which vaguely reminds me of 'Pancho and Lefty', the Baez-like young man gone wrong 'Prayer For My Brother' and, surprisingly the first time on record, her regular show closer, 'My Last Call', the weary reflections of a woman who had everything and threw it away.

Like most live albums, this is very much for those who are fans already, but I can't imagine anyone uninitiated in her work hearing this and not wanting to delve into the back catalogue.

Mike Davies