Solstice, yearning.

Winter break started about one week ago. I haven’t done much that isn’t slovenly and therefore lovely–late evenings, beer with friends, naps, and trolling some music blogs for new tunes. Don’t let anyone tell you that sloth never produces anything good, though. Due to this quiet time, I have two new album recommendations for you.

Alela Diane, To Be Still

The first is a little late given its February 2009 release. However, I just found out about Nevada-City-native-turned-Portlander Alela Diane, and just listened to To Be Still (Rough Trade Records) for the first time today. I’m quite taken with it and her pretty, infrequent blogging. This is her first recording since her debut, The Pirate’s Gospel (Holocene Music 2006). Her songwriting is impressive given her short musical history–she started writing songs just three years prior to The Pirate’s Gospel. Yet both of her parents are musicians, TPG was recorded in her father’s home studio, and he has collaborated with her on several of her songs. She was “discovered” by fellow Nevada City native Joanna Newsom, who arranged for her first public show. She has since toured throughout the US and Europe, extensively in France. She collaborated with Joey Waronker, Gus Seyffert, Leo Abrahams, and Woody Jackson under the name “Headless Heroes” to produce an album of covers, The Silence of Love (Nov. 2008), recorded by Eddie Bezalel and Hugo Nicholson. Her most recent release (Oct. 2009) is a collaboration with Alina Hardin, simply titled Alela & Alina (Family/Names Records). You can hear a sample of them here.

Other nice stuff: Pitchfork‘s review of To Be Still;  a Daytrotter session, which includes some nice recordings (May 2007); NPR’s World Cafe session with the lady and her father (!); and a Blogotheque “Take Away Show,” which is embedded below (Dec. 2007).


Laura Veirs, July Flame

Luckily, I’m right on time with a fanfare for this album. Laura is another Portland transplant who I was lucky enough to see perform at the Laurelthirst (one of her standard gigs) back in October. She had a valise full of CDs of July Flame, her newest recording, set for a Jan. 12, 2010 release date. The recording will be the debut full-length album for her own label, Raving Marching Band Records, and her seventh full-length album–sixth with co-producer Tucker Martine. A look at her website reveals a full July Flame tour schedule extending into March, with dates throughout both the US and Europe. In fact, if you’re in Portland, you can catch her at the Laurelthirst again on New Year’s Eve. You can download two tracks off the album right here; I certainly recommend the title track. Like Alela, the Colorado Springs native got a start in music with her family, with summers spent camping and singing around campfires. Her songwriting skills really emerged right after graduating from college and moving to China to serve as a translator. Writing lyrics became a way of coping for her, during a period of semi-isolation. Her biography on her website describes July Flame‘s genesis:

On a day in late July 2008, when the sun was hot enough to melt the skin, Veirs and a friend stumbled upon a booth at the Portland, Ore. farmer’s market selling July Flame peaches. Veirs so liked the name that she suggested she and her friend each write a song with that title. They bought a bunch of peaches and canned them in their bathing suits on the hottest day that summer. The peaches, spiked with cloves and drenched in syrup, turned out great, and the song is one of Veirs’ best ever. “I’d been in a songwriting slump at that time and writing that song pushed me over my plateau and into a new place where I was surprising myself again. I invented oddball tunings so I was really using my ear to search out new-sounding melodies and patterns,” says Veirs. “I wrote this album from a searching, soulful place. I hope it elicits a real gut feeling.”

Other nice things: The NPR World Cafe session is here; I’ve embedded a video she made of her barn, the space at her home where she writes her music and teaches lessons. It’s a pretty cool glimpse!


Thanks for reading, all; I hope you enjoy these two beautiful albums. Merry Christmas to all, and a fulfilling new year.

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