Review: Alela Diane & Alina Hardin – Alela & Alina

by Katherine


alela-alinaI’ve always felt a bit sorry for poor Alela Diane. A supremely talented individual, she’s had the extreme misfortune to emerge from the mountains of California at the same time as hipster-beloved harpist Joanna Newsom – and from the moment Joanna started her unwieldy squeaking on 2004’s ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender’, there seemed no hope of Alela’s altogether more temperate brand of folk music holding the attention of the public for more than a few, passing seconds.

But now Ms. Newsom seems to be on an extended hiatus, and in her absence Alela’s been slowly garnering the attention she deserves – Pitchfork, having ignored her debut, has awarded her sophomore album a highly respectable 8.0, and she’s been dutifully doing the festival rounds – playing End of The Road, Latitude and Primavera – and touring with folk heavyweights such as Iron & Wine and Blitzen Trapper.

So for an artist essentially at the peak of her game, is a duet EP such a good idea? Both duets and EP’s have been horrifically done in the past – both seem to be an excuse to dress up substandard material for the sake of a release – and when you add in the fact that Alela’s duet partner is old friend Alina Hardin, you’d be forgiven for wondering just how much work went on in the studio. And when you toss in the fact that three out of the six tracks are covers, Alela Diane fans must be quaking in their fringed boots.

Thankfully, this EP is far from the disaster its circumstances predict – it’s a thing of pastoral, austere beauty, and has the rare gift of recalling the past without cheapening it – Alela’s brand of nostalgias is effortless, almost instinctive, as though the voices of ancient troubadours trickle in with her own.

The EP kicks off (Although ‘kicks off’ seems to be too aggressive a phrase for this EP – it more gently wafts out of your speakers) with ‘Amidst The Movement’, and here we see Alina Hardin earn her album co-credit with ease – although both singers are stunning on their own, their sum is greater than their parts; their voices entwine spellbindingly, and Alina’s high, floating mewl gives Alela’s sonorousness a welcome lightness.

Elsewhere, the results are equally as stunning – ‘Crying Wolf’, with it’s gently-undulating guitar line, bell-like vocals, and chaste, Christina Rossetti-inspired romanticism, is simply the purest piece of music I’ve heard for quite some time,  and ‘Matty Groves’ shows that Alela can carry off lengthy, Ys-style narratives with ease- but to be honest, comparing Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane is almost completely void – yes, they are cut from the same cloth, but while Joanna’s weighty ambitions spiral towards the treetops, Alela’s bucolic blues are far happier residing, peacefully on the forest floor.

You can download a fantastic mp3 from the EP, ‘On The Bowling Green’, here: http://soundcloud.com/stayloose/alela-diane-alina-hardin-bowling-green

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