Diana Jones is an American original. Like her contemporaries, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, she has a gift for interpreting the traditional music of the south with a contemporary twist. But unlike Williams and Welch, her music evokes the sounds and sights of an earlier era
Jones comes with an unusual back story. She was adopted into a northern family, growing up as the daughter of a chemical engineer. In her 20's she located her birth family in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. She discovered that her grandfather was a guitar player who performed with Chet Atkins and other country greats. He knew and loved the old southern mountain music, and shared these tunes with Jones, who had been attracted to this kind of music early on. She had recorded a couple of singer/songwriter albums in the late 1990's, but armed with this new information about her family, she turned to the music of her roots. As a result, her work came to the attention of the Folk Alliance who nominated her for a "Best Emerging Artist" award, and she toured with Richard Thompson and Mary Gauthier.
High Atmosphere is Jones's third recording of original traditional sounding southern music. Her themes reflect the darker side of life: loss, poverty, uncertainty and death. But there is resilience here as well. Her plaintive, unadorned vocal style is perfectly suited to the music. Once you become accustomed to it, it is hard to resist.
The recording opens with the title cut, High Atmosphere. It is as good as traditional country music gets with superbly crafted lyrics, Jones's fine accompaniment on guitar, and a slew of excellent musicians including Ketch Secor on banjo and fiddle.
Death sometimes comes to the most vulnerable as it does in Little Lamb, one of the CD's best cuts. Jones's voice is soft and comforting, lending a sense of peace and safety to the world beyond this one. Michael Samis, on cello, is particularly fine here.
Lost love has never sound as poignant as it does on My Love is Gone. What is particularly remarkable about Jones is how she marries the best lyrical qualities of today's singer/songwriters to traditional music:
Lord build a boat that I may go
The outstanding Funeral Singer features a duet with the remarkable vocalist Jim Lauderdale, one of country's finest singer/songwriters.
Diana Jones achieves something extraordinary in High Atmosphere. She manages to remain within the confines of the traditional mountain music of Appalachia, yet she brings a contemporary singer/songwriter's spin to the sound with lyrics that tell vividly portrayed stories of hardship and pain. Whether it is a sister who brings the devil into her home by making a bad marriage, or a young child gone too soon, Jones has the listener tuned into every word and nuance of her tales of woe. At the same time, there is a sense of faith that those who believe will be redeemed, if not in this world, certainly in the next one.
Jones, in High Atmosphere, is a revelation. I am reminded of the first time I heard Eva Cassidy's voice. I knew that this was something new and different; something extraordinary. *High Atmosphere* needs to be heard by a large audience. Here is hoping that Jones gets the shot at stardom she deserves. This is music for the ages.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Roberta B. Schwartz.
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