Blitzen Trapper, Alela Diane | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Blitzen Trapper, Alela Diane Critic's Choice Early Warnings (Music) Member Picks Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., Feb. 19, 7 & 10 p.m. 2009

I immediately liked Alela Diane’s debut, The Pirate’s Gospel, when I first heard it almost three years ago, even though it was a little hobbled by freak-folk affectation. On her brand-new To Be Still (Rough Trade), the Nevada City native has come into her own, building on the good things from her first album—particularly the natural ease of her melodies and her sorrowful, sparingly applied vibrato—and dispensing with the preciousness in her lyrics. The Pirate’s Gospel was essentially a one-woman show, but on the new record guest players supply restrained California-style folk arrangements, colored with flecks of roots rock and country—and the extra musical business enhances rather than obscures the essence of her beautiful songs. The violin solo on “White as Diamonds” arrives out of the blue to provide a sort of retelling of the lovely melody, and on the title track a woozy steel guitar dances around the vocals all the way through. Brilliant oddball folkie Michael Hurley duets with Diane on “Age Old Blues,” and his loopy, cranky phrasing sits perfectly with her more austere style—the four decades that separate them don’t seem to matter at all. Even the drumming (which turns up on most of the tunes) is tasteful enough not to feel intrusive. She’s touring with a four-piece backing band, and with any luck they’ll be able to reproduce the album’s simpatico instrumental touches. Blitzen Trapper headlines. —Peter Margasak

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