Diana Jones: High Atmosphere

Photo by Alan Messer

While one would not recommend playing this disc at parties (unless one wanted to clear the guests out), the latent cheeriness of the depressing material rivals the blues as good time music.

Diana Jones

High Atmosphere

Label: Proper American
US Release Date: 2011-04-05

Judging by the topics of the songs on Diana Jones’ latest release, you would think she'd be a drag to be with. The Appalachian-style musician writes songs and sings about the death of a child, the death of a lover, the grueling effects of poverty, the job of a funeral singer, coal mine accidents, and such. The one cover song out of the dozen tracks is her clomping rendition of the spiritual “Motherless Children”, about the plight of a lonesome orphan.

Yet High Atmosphere perversely functions as a happy album. Jones’s plain and straightforward take on the material invites one to sing along and share the pain. Misery loves company, and nothing gives solace as much as giving solace. The simple acoustic string arrangements allow Jones to sing in a conversational manner, as if she is just giving you the local news and weather reports. She invites you to listen closely and delivers the bad news with a deadpan smile.

So when she tells you the devil has moved to town and married her sweet and trusting sister, you think, well at least he’s got a job and doesn’t beat her. Or when she sings that she doesn’t want to be forgotten by her family after being sent to prison, you get the impression that she’ll be okay. Everybody’s got troubles, and if you do not now, you will sooner or later. It’s inevitable, but troubles too will pass. Sit a spell and listen to the soothing sounds of the simple human voice mixed with the harmonious plaints of the guitar, fiddle, banjo, piano, cello, and mandolin. Music is a small, good thing.

It’s not that Jones wallows in sorrow, but she understands the knowledge brought on by a “Poor Heart” cannot be easily gained. She might wish there was “A Drug for This” ache, but she does not underestimate the power of hurt to elevate one’s spirit. It’s unhappiness that brings us together, not love. That essence pervades every song.

Musically, Jones is accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Old Crow Medicine Show's Keith Secor, who co-produced the record with her, and other talented players. Country singer Jim Lauderdale sings with her on three cuts. Their two voices create an eerie resonance as they both have twangy cricks in their vocals. The strain mimics the discomfort caused by things like not having enough money to live, being incarcerated, and the death of a family member.

Okay, so while one would not recommend playing this disc at parties (unless one wanted to clear the guests out), the latent cheeriness of the depressing material rivals the blues as good time music. Consider the case of “Motherless Children”. Guitarists Steve Miller and Eric Clapton have recorded popular versions of the traditional song and turned it into celebratory fare by accentuating the instrumental accompaniment. Jones stresses the lyrics about “hard times”, something to which we all can relate. The song comes off as a communal purging rather than a personal lament.

Jones’s belief in a “High Atmosphere” or heaven above is just the other side of the coin. Human existence may be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, as the Bible says, but that may be the very same things that give it meaning and purpose.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.