Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image