Eugene Weekly : Music : 8.30.07

California Gold
Nevada City native creates haunting melodies

Alela Diane had a typical musical upbringing. She awoke and fell asleep to the sounds of her parents singing from the kitchen, and naturally took to music by joining a local choir. Little did she know that the sound bellowing from her tiny body wasn’t just her own but that of thousands of old souls.

Diane was raised in Nevada City, Calif., a gold-rush town that experienced several full-city burnings in the late 1800s. Now in her early 20s, Diane has the voice of someone haunted by those gold miners, general store owners and whisky drinkers that either thrived or perished during those changing times. Like it or not, she is the voice of Nevada City’s past.

But it’s not just her folk music that recalls the gold-rush era; it’s her general demeanor. On her website, entwined with sepia-toned images and girlish lace, she writes: “I’ll sit for a while pawing an old grandma’s handkerchief or the scrimshaw of a sailor. I think about whose hands did make these things!” From her songs, one can only imagine a person who lives and dreams with her eyes wide open, taking in all of life’s facets with open arms.

Those songs are built upon intricate vocal arrangements that seem to change like the seasons. Writers are quick to compare her with Joanna Newsom, another Nevada City songstress who’s changing the way people think about folk music. While it’s a flattering comparison, it’s not necessarily a fair one. Diane’s sound is older, wiser. She uses the hollowness of her voice to invent moods and imagery in the same way that looking at an old Polaroid can rewrite history. Deep within her songs are tales — almost otherworldly tales — that can only come from her mind. On “The Rifle,” she sings: “Papa get the rifle from its place above the French doors. They’re coming from the woods. And Mama you’re running too. And brother I’m so sorry that you watched the paintings burn.”

After several years of living in Portland, Alela Diane is moving back home. According to Willamette Week, Diane played her last Portland show in June to a group of broken-hearted music lovers. Since Eugene has had limited time with her, take this opportunity to see her before she bids the Northwest a fond farewell.

The Avett Brothers, Hillstomp, Alela Diane. 8 pm Friday, Aug. 31. WOW Hall$15 adv./ $18 door