Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Diana Jones: "High Atmosphere" (2011 release) CD Review

Diana Jones sounds like someone you know. That is, you immediately trust her and feel comfortable enveloped in her voice. She comes across as friendly - but a friend who is experiencing some troubles - and, perhaps more importantly, understands your own. Her voice seems to work best on the sadder songs, like "I Don't Know" and "My Love Is Gone." Though "Poverty" is another of my favorites, and it has a more upbeat tone.

This instantly became a favorite album of mine. I let it play over and over, and only took the CD out when a friend wanted to watch a movie. It's way too early to be talking about the best albums of the year. But let's put it this way: if at the end of the year, this album is not on my top ten list, then that means there will be a slew of miraculous releases in the coming months. Perhaps not every song is a gem, but every song contains at least one gem.

Apart from the final track, all the songs on this album are originals. "Motherless Children," the final track, is listed as a traditional song. It would not surprise me if years from now folks are covering the songs on this album to the extent that they become listed as "traditional."

High Atmosphere opens with the title track. This song is some of the best of what the folk and acoustic universe has to offer. Excellent vocals, great music, good lyrics. Diana sings, "Trouble won't follow me here/trouble can barely find me here/lingering sighs disperse in the sky/trouble won't follow me here." This song is helped too by Mike Bub's steady bass line, which goes right to your heart.

"I Don't Know"

"I Don't Know" is one of the sadder tunes, and one of the best on the album. It starts, "Where do you go when you're tired in your soul/it's too soon to join the choir in the sky/do you rest your bones in the low land low/I don't know I don't know I don't know." I love that the song offers no answers. This is part of why this album is so effective. Diana Jones is not singing to us; she's singing with us - for us. In this one, Diana also sings, "Some say love is a beautiful thing/some say love is the trouble it brings." Wonderful.


"Sister" is more upbeat in tone. It's a song about a protective older sister, and her younger sister who marries someone who might be less than ideal. Older sister will keep an eye on him, waiting for him to mess up. It's interesting, because the song is positive in that she's looking out for her sister, but at the same time has a negative - or at least cynical - view of men. The idea is that if she waits long enough, this man will show himself to be the devil.

Duke Levine plays electric guitar on this track. And really, can an album be said to be an important folk release if Duke Levine isn't in there somewhere?

"I Told The Man" is a sad tune about a man dying in a mine. It has a simple, straightforward tone, with vocals, guitar and bass. It features the great lines, "You can pray pray pray/but the Lord will have his way."


"Poverty" is a fun song about the effects of destitution. It acts the same way the blues do - singing about your troubles somehow keeps the troubles at bay, at least momentarily. This is one of my favorites. Is that because of my own precarious financial situation? Possibly. She's also singing for my many unemployed friends. This song begins, "Poverty poverty/empty hands and icy feet/a bed so cold I cannot sleep/in the arms of poverty."

"My Love Is Gone"

"My Love Is Gone" is probably the best song on the album. It's a sadder tune, and beautiful in its forlorn tone. It begins, "The branches bare on every tree/a hawk is mournful as she cries/the winter sun veiled in the sky/now that my love is gone from me." And check out these lines: "Lord build a boat that I may go/a saddled steed that I may ride/or dig a grave to lay me low/now that my love is gone from me." There is also some wonderful work by Ketch Secor on this one, particularly toward the end of the track.

"Funeral Singer"

"Funeral Singer" is another of this album's gems. This is a great folk tune. It's sad and beautiful, and it raises the spirits - Diana Jones is so adept at this. She can make you feel better while driving you to the edge of tears. I don't even know how she does it. I just have to count it as some sort of miracle. This is one of the songs that could easily become a standard folk song in the years to come. I hope it does. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I have lost my little bird/I have lost my sunshine/must I stay in this world/with you gone from my side/I sing a sad song/and another for you."

Jim Lauderdale provides vocals on this track.

"Drug For This"

"Drug For This" is yet another beautiful, sad song. Gorgeous and heartbreaking, it features wonderful lyrics like "Wasn't far from there to here/a ride in an open car/a night in the arms of what felt like love/it felt like love/we lifted up into the sky/and circled round and round so high/then it was the ground I hit/I wish there was a drug for this."

If these songs don't move you emotionally, then you have no soul. It's as simple as that.

CD Track List

  1. High Atmosphere
  2. I Don't Know
  3. Sister
  4. I Told The Man
  5. Little Lamb
  6. Poverty
  7. My Love Is Gone
  8. Don't Forget Me
  9. Funeral Singer
  10. Poor Heart
  11. Drug For This
  12. Motherless Children


The musicians on this release are Diana Jones on vocals, guitar, tenor guitar and foot stomps; Ketch Secor on fiddle, viola, violin, ganjo, guitar and harmony vocals; Mike Bub on bass; Beau Stapleton on mandolin, bajo quinto and guitar; Aaron Embry on piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond organ, pump organ and synths; Tommy G on drums; Michael Samis on cello; Duke Levin on electric guitar; David Mayfield on acoustic guitar and harmony vocals; and Jim Lauderdale on vocals.

High Atmosphere is scheduled to be released April 5, 2011 on Proper American Records. Other releases by Diana Jones include My Remembrance Of You (2006) and Better Times Will Come (2009).


  1. I agree it's one of the year's best so far. What impresses me most is how the individual songs add up to something bigger, like chapters in a novel. Someone dies in each song, yet as the death toll mounts it becomes a gospel of hope and faith. Lots of little details that make sense later.

    The other thing that stood out was the production. Producers are getting too involved these days. On this one they do only what is necessary for each song.

    My review here: http://tinyurl.com/42u89ps

  2. Nice review. Also don't miss her EP from last year ("Sparrow"), especially if you like "Funeral Singer". I first heard it on that EP, where she does it solo. The whole EP is very strong. As is this album.

  3. Thanks for letting me know about the EP. I definitely need to get a copy of that disc.