june 2009

Truth, Straightforwardly Presented

By Billy Altman

Diana Jones

Diana Jones Better Times Will ComeBetter Times Will Come
Diana Jones
Proper American

On paper, there are tempting critical shortcuts one could use to describe Diana Jones and her music. You could just say she's a singer-songwriter in the same vein as Iris DeMent or Gillian Welch—a statement that would likely conjur up an image of an acoustic guitar-playing female, dressed tastefully but almost deliberately simply, performing rootsy, country-flavored original songs that hearken back to the most traditional forms of American country and blues. And, truth be told, that would be pretty accurate. That word just used there-truth—is a huge part of what's so dauntingly impressive about Diana Jones. Her words, her melodies, her singing: They all ring with a totality of truth that's so straightforwardly presented, it's almost shocking.

If I had a gun, you'd be dead
One in the heart, one in the head
If I had a gun I'd wipe it clean
My fingerprints off on these sheets

They'd bury you in the cold, hard ground
Fistful of dirt would hold you down
They'd bury you in the cold, hard ground
Be the first night I sleep sound.

That's the opening verse and chorus of the spousal abuse-themed "If I Had A Gun," and as you listen to this, with the hairs of the back of your neck standing on end, you may find yourself thinking, as I did, "Wow. No one's ever taken that subject matter and just put it out there, that plainly, that bluntly. That's amazing."

I know not where the wind will blow
I only know that I will follow
To where the guns and tanks shall roll
So far from home
All for the love of your soldier girl
Remember me each day I'm gone
And send a prayer
All for the love of your soldier girl.

That's from "Soldier Girl, which, to the most old-timey sounding of melodies and all-American accompaniment of guitar, fiddle and banjo, matter-of-factly goes on to note that "a rich girl she will go to school," while "a poor girl has few chances to fight the demon poverty." And you may find yourself thinking, "Wow. What a brilliant timely twist on the old 'Soldier Boy' theme. No one's ever taken that subject matter and just put it out there, that plainly, that bluntly. That's amazing."

You get the picture. And I dare say that of the eleven songs on Diana Jones' new CD, at least half have caused me to react almost the same way. From the charity-seeking "Ballad Of The Poor Child" and the loving-is-about-the-flaws "Cracked and Broken" (as in "cracked and broken and beautiful, that's how the light shines through") to the collection's last track, "The Day I Die," about the circle of life ("the day I die, children laugh and cars roll by/the bell will ring at suppertime/The day I die"), Jones' compositions are underscored by a clear sense of social consciousness and social responsibility. And by framing these decidedly current affairs-themed compositions with melodies and instrumentation usually associated with mountain music from well over half a century ago, Jones not only makes them stand out even more starkly, but invokes the spirit of that lost (maybe found) America. Which makes her work all the more impressive for its overall thoughtfulness and sense of purpose.

Diana Jones' backstory is an interesting one. She grew up adopted in the Northeast, but after successfully seeking out her birth family in Tennessee, she began gravitating towards country music, and has been writing and performing in various settings since the mid-1990s. Her 2006 album My Remembrances Of You was where many listeners (this one included) first discovered her—and while that collection drew its share of deserving critical acclaim, Better Times Will Come is a huge leap forward, and is quickly being recognized as such. The venerable Joan Baez, who knows a thing or two about spotlighting good songwriters, has already covered one of the songs here, "Henry Russell's Last Words," a song based on the true story note written by a dying miner to his about-to-be-widowed wife after a coal disaster in the 1920s, and she's already gathering a significant following over in the UK, whose Proper Records is releasing this new album in the U.S. With any justice in the music world, by the time she gets ready to release her next album, she'll have a significant following here as well. If you like your country music real—make that your music, period, real—seek out Diana Jones. She's really good—and that's the truth.

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Diana Jones, "Pretty Girl," from her 2006 album, My Remembrances Of You, performing live at Mountain Stage 

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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