Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Diana Jones -- Better Times Will Come

Diana Jones
Better Times Will Come
Proper American

Diana Jones released a couple of albums in the 1990s – which I’ve never heard and are now out-of-print – but her breakthrough as a major folk music artist came with My Remembrance of You, an excellent album she released in 2006. The CD revealed an extraordinary songwriter who crafts seemingly plain and simple songs that are actually fully developed character studies wedded to timeless melodies. Better Times Will Come, Diana’s new album, is every bit as good as its predecessor.

I was already familiar with a couple of these songs from versions by other artists. The first is “Henry Russell’s Last Words,” recorded last year by Joan Baez on Day After Tomorrow, a deeply moving true story based on a letter written with a piece of coal on a paper bag by a trapped and dying miner after a mine explosion in 1927. The other is “If I Had a Gun,” whose key line, “one to the heart, one to the head,” gave Gretchen Peters the title to her superb CD released early this year. That song – co-written with Celeste Krenz, Rebecca Folsom and Liz Barnez, the only song on the CD not wholly written by Diana – is sung from the perspective of a battered woman imagining she had the power to drop her abuser with a couple of shots.

Diana, herself, is not the protagonist in many of these songs. But, there is certainly something of her in some of them. Diana was an adoptee who, in adulthood, found her birth mother and developed a relationship with her. She draws on that experience in the poignant “All God’s Children,” the story of an 18-year-old adoptee beginning her own search to find her birth mother.

Other highlights include “Better Times Will Come,” the title track, a hopeful song for our current hard times, “Cracked and Broken,” an affirmation that true beauty is to be found in imperfection, and “Soldier Girl,” sung from the perspective of a woman soldier headed off to serve in some place like Iraq or Afghanistan. The song touches on the class differences that draw some poor people into trying to find some measure of security in the military.

Diana Jones is not a me-oriented singer-songwriter. Her songs are deeply influenced by folk traditions and stand tall in the company of timeless traditional folk songs.

--Mike Regenstreif

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