Nov 04, 2022
By Lee Campbell
Sometimes records come around that perfectly fit a particular moment in time. Looking Glass by Portland artist Alela Diane meets that mantle. Gazing through her lens of past, present, and everything in between, the LP touches on isolation, violent weather systems induced by climate issues, and places of refuge & comfort; all very relevant reflections for these turbulent days.
Her previous album, 2018’s Cusp, was critically praised and featured supporting vocals from the likes of First Aid Kit. On her sixth studio record there are esteemed guest vocals from Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), Scott Avett (The Avett Brothers), and Ryan Francesconi. Tucker Martine (Neko Case) takes on the production duties.
“Paloma” is a spell-binding opening track with its immediate richness and texture. It celebrates the raw power of nature, written in the midst of a dramatic Mexican thunderstorm—“In the black of night I wouldn’t be taken aback If the sun gave up and never brought the day.” Keeping with the same theme, the swirling sound of “Howling Wind” was penned at the time of horrific wildfires tearing through the Pacific Northwest.
The intricate Elliott Smith, finger-picking style acoustic on “When We Believed” is a song for the road—“Driving east, windows rolled down, towards some small town, we could be anywhere.” It speaks of the previous places and lives once lived by Diane. The stark and fragile “Strawberry Moon” has a more melancholy feel. “Of Love” is graceful and gentle with a classic waltzing rhythm at its core. “All the Light” fuses folk, soul, and jazz—you can almost feel the sunlight bursting into the room when you listen.
When Diane was a teenager her parents divorced, forcing the loss of their family home in California. On the wistful “Dream a River,” she recalls those days in Nevada City contrasted with the feeling of hollowness seeing the property up for sale on a more recent visit to the area.
On Cusp, Diane used the near-death experience of childbirth as the central focus. Now, with her daughters a few years older, she sings “Mother’s Arms.” This song vocalizes the pain of separation during lockdown, in what she describes as “the trials of these days,” both from her own perspective as a daughter herself and her children’s innocent confusion in being unable to visit those closest to them. Album closer “Another Dream” is predominantly Diane’s ethereal vocals and a soft piano. A soothing end to a wonderful album.
The songs on Looking Glass have a brilliantly simple yet familiar quality to them. Alela Diane brings both strength and vulnerability to her songwriting. Her music is warmly immersed in what is dear to many of us; family, nature, memories, and ultimately, belonging. (www.aleladiane.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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