[20 December 2005]
There are many artists that are independent. Okay, so that wasn’t a news bulletin, I know. Yet for every thousand that are out there trying to do things their own way, which can be an incredibly hard road to travel, there are a handful who seem to grab your attention for the length of an entire album. Diana Darby’s previous album Fantasia Ball was such a record. It is basically a stripped-down affair that showcases her fine lyrics and stellar arrangements.
Now with her third album, and one that is rather oddly titled, Darby hopes to improve on her critically acclaimed track record. And the first song is a good indicator that the producers haven’t convinced her that more layers make for better songs. “Skin” is such a song, although it’s basically an introduction to the record at around a half-minute long. Darby strums her guitar and sounds as if she’s been channeling Lucinda Williams circa Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
While a good if unfinished idea, Darby maintains that haunting, Grey DeLisle-ish talent to the ensuing “Bring Me All the Rabbits”, a song that is hushed and makes you want to jump into the closet with Darby so she can share with you this tender, whispered mini-narrative. The tune is also one that surely Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins is kicking herself for not coming up with herself. Or for that matter, something Glenn Close’s character might have been humming to herself prior to concocting her rabbit stew in Fatal Attraction. “Run rabbit run” she sings, with a touch of sadness and yet some comforting lullaby in her voice.
When a singer can make Cat Power or Canadian indie princess Julie Doiron sound harsh and loud, you know she is definitely onto something extremely rare and thus extremely special. “Let Her Run Free” is a hair louder and expands on this solemn, downbeat vibe with a minimal amount of electric guitar and elongated lyrics for effect, bringing to mind an early Marianne Faithful or Velvet Underground song with Nico fronting—sans the thick accent. You expect the singer to shatter into shards, she sings with such angelic-like fragility and childlike innocence, despite the lyrics referring to the old “if you love someone, set them free” adage.
As the album progresses though, there’s a growing tension, especially on the dark, dreary, and aptly titled “The Murder”, with its eerie violin touches. Darby, who recorded the entire album herself on a 4-track recorder, played this song only once in her life, which is what you hear on the record. That’s an incredible achievement given how well it stacks up against the others presented.
The consistent tone of sorrow and sadness is broken slightly with “I’m Wishing You Bluebirds”. But even this song is painted with less than a silver lining. With this song and the entire album as a matter of fact, Darby was inspired by an Irish documentary of the Magdalene Laundries, an Irish home for “wayward girls” that was operating for a century and a half, closing finally in 1996. She portrays this sense of isolation and being beaten down perfectly on this song while still hoping that tomorrow is a better day for those stuck in the home during their lives.
Another great example of this the ambling, strolling “Black Swan”. This song is not as creepy as “I’m Wishing You Bluebirds”, but it does slowly grow on you the way a creepy kind of ditty would. The greatest asset these songs have is how much they desire and require your attention; some of the lyrics are almost inaudible.
The final songs on the record don’t go astray from what Darby knows in her heart works wonders. “Pretty Flowers” consists of her voice, perhaps the loudest it’s been thus far on the album, and a dirge-like guitar melody in the distance. The songs are short but incredibly sweet, with none finer than “No Leaving Now” as she complements herself with gorgeous harmonies. It’s rare to get this consistency from such a morose and dreary tone, but Darby wouldn’t have it any other way. And thank goodness for that.