Music

Alela Diane: About Farewell

About Farewell's only failing is that it clocks in at a mere 33 minutes in length. It leaves one gasping for more.


Alela Diane

About Farewell

Label: Rusted Blue
US Release Date: 2013-07-30
UK Release Date: Import
Digital Release Date: 2013-06-25
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The gorgeously intimate new Alela Diane album is difficult to classify. Her unadorned voice takes center stage to sparse acoustic instrumental arrangements. Is this country folk or torch song jazz, adult contemporary or art song? The answer doesn’t really matter as much as the fact that this is truly a marvelous creation. The record's only failing is that it clocks in at a mere 33 minutes in length. It leaves one gasping for more.

Diane works with a palette of primary colors; musically with simple melodies and unaffected vocals, as well as lyrically. Not only does she sing of “yellow curtains", “red velvet seats", “Colorado blue", and such, she makes straightforward statements like “being one foot out the door” and “I woke up drunk on that basement floor” that say exactly what she means and implies so much more. Of course, this is what one would expect from an album that presciently begins, “I said what I needed to say, I guess.” Even before she gets to the second line, Diane tells us she’s said it all already. She’s laconic as well as suggestively literate.

Diane’s Hemingwayesque vocabulary lets you know the vulnerability of her narrators without having to spell out the emotions. And like Hemingway, Diane also sings about whiskey and having too much to drink. Alcohol frees her characters to feel -- good and bad -- about their relationships. Mostly, they feel lost and overwhelmed. “Some things are best if kept in darkness,” she sings, and notes that one only tells fibs when awake. Sleep and alcohol keep one honest, and honesty is a virtue. It’s our conscious behaviors and motivations that are not to be trusted.

The overall effect of plain language and unembellished vocals reifies Diane’s sincerity. Diane went through a recent divorce and it is easy to see these songs as self-reflective, but who knows or cares if this is true. The music here stands apart from her biography. One does not need to confirm the veracity of her feelings or language as much as believe in Diane’s performance. She makes the narrative heartfelt through her presentation. The stories she delivers, the details she provides, and the manner in which Diane carries it off seduces the listener into empathy. The pain itself comes off as convincingly real, and more importantly, so does her resolution to move forward.

After all, this album is entitled About Farewell. Diane acknowledges what’s been left behind on songs like the wistful “Before the Leaving” and the gorgeous “Lost Land”, but she’s looking ahead. The title song in particular is more than a song about goodbye. The narrator knows not to look back. Instead, she describes the past as the foundation for what is next. She needs to come out of the shadows to grow.

But perhaps this description over intellectualizes what happens when love grows cold, dies, and the rest of life continues on. Diane’s portrayal of how this plays out over the course of the album is more poetic than a mere report or explanation of this phenomenon. While this may not be a concept album per se, the songs do run together along this theme. Her account of lost love dispassionately conveys how the hues of emotions color the way we see ourselves and others. Diane’s musical ability to expose and interpret works like those optical illusions with which we are familiar with yet still have the ability to make us do a double take. Is that a woman with a hat or a lady looking in a mirror? No, it’s just Diane drawing us in to appreciate the big picture.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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