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Diana Darby: Fantasia Ball

Jason MacNeil

Diana Darby

Fantasia Ball

Label: Delmore Recording Society
US Release Date: 2007-02-27

After her debut album Naked Time, many critics were convinced that Diana Darby was somebody to take notice of. But while she hasn't necessarily been the front-page starlet, her music and fragile, near childlike vocals have continued to cause a stir. A recent contribution to a Kris Kristofferson tribute album turned heads. Now with her new album, the vocals are as sparse and near spoken word as one can imagine. Working in a small trio arrangement only heightens her vocals -- at times chilling and warming all at once.

"Fly Away" gets things off to a dramatic beginning courtesy of David Henry's cello. Darby's vocals could be compared to a late-night phone conversation with a newfound love or a tethered relationship. "If I could live even for a day / Without my head saying all those things / I would fly away", she sings in a style that perhaps only Lisa Germano could consistently excel at. Recording at home also gives the song, as well as the album, a very close and comfy feeling. "Falling Down" is more of a folk-oriented song as Darby strums her guitar and creates a mood of autumn in the air. Thankfully, Darby has more than enough strength in her lyrics to make the whispery hushed vocals very alluring from the onset. The subtle organ and bass on the song gives it a touch of audible color.

"If It Feels Good" has more of a lo-fi indie rock aura. But the country guitar twang and jangle results in an interesting crossover. "If it feels good do it / And don't worry", Darby says in a Lou Reed sort of way. "Summer", a song that Darby wrote about spring ending, was influenced by the poetry of Mary Oliver according to the press kit. The dreamy pop groove and Darby's basic "ba ba bas" gives it a light feeling despite the rather deep structure. The minimal nature to the track is what Darby does best, namely knowing what works and making inroads with each track. Two-thirds of the way into the song the dreamy portion grows on you as she says there's "Nothing I can do to change a thing".

Darby misses the mark somewhat on "Ferry", a number whereby she never really finds her voice within the song. The lyrics are strong but the way they are communicated is off-kilter and perhaps too folk-oriented. "Turn the lights off / You're a bad boy", she sings before Henry's cello solo starts. Not quite singing but not quite spoken word, it's a bit of an unfortunate adventure. "My Own" is direct and includes her best lyrics. Strumming the guitar with more authority and a sense of intensity, the backing rhythm section pipes in slowly but steadily, just enough to build it into something moody and murky. The controlled tension Darby has is one of her many assets. It's as if Lucinda Williams met PJ Harvey.

"The Only One Who's Listening" resembles Darby at her wit's end. "What's the point of giving all your cigarettes away / What's the point in hoping / You can find a better way", she utters as if on the verge of a nervous or emotional breakdown. Audible breathing between lines as well as the sound of lips parting makes it all the more eerie. Self-doubt and general confusion seems to be at the root of these songs, making them fairly accessible and universal. "Happy" has a certain Cowboy Junkies quality surrounding it -- not quite a dirge but far from lifting one's spirits. A somber joy to be sure. The only cover song is the Rolling Stones' "Blue Turns to Grey" from the group's December's Children album. Completely revamping the song to suit her style, Darby gives it a totally different interpretation. For a talent to silence a room with a near silent approach is a testament this quality performer.

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