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Alela Diane: The Sacred And The Secular

Alela Diane's "Elijah" feels simultaneously grounded and otherworldly.
Courtesy of the artist
Alela Diane's "Elijah" feels simultaneously grounded and otherworldly.

Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter Alela Diane wrote much of her latest album while touring in Europe, and the effect is palpable: Her material is rich with echoes of the melancholy British folk tradition (think Nick Drake and Richard Thompson), as well as Celtic flair that recalls mid-period Van Morrison.

Diane's warm alto provides an ideal vehicle for her minor-key meditations on matters existential and elemental. With a lyrical style that tends more toward dreamlike imagery than straightforward narrative, she creates music with timeless character. Happily unrooted in the here and now, these songs could have surfaced 20 years ago, or even 100.

"Elijah" is replete with hints of folk tradition and intimations of mysticism. Premised on a recent meeting between Diane and a young French mother, the song feels simultaneously grounded and otherworldly. In the manner of many of her folk-music forebears, Diane seamlessly moves between the personal and the spiritual: "I met Madeline in the South of France / where she grew with the fig / and broke bread with the moon / Dark eyes of the evening brought her a son / a blessing and a burden for she was so young." In the chorus, Diane invokes the titular Elijah with intensity reminiscent of religious litany. The commingling of secular and sacred is common in traditional music, and Diane uses that tension to great effect here.

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Elizabeth Nelson
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