Diana Jones combines traditional mountain and old-time sounds with a literate, character-driven brand of storytelling on her new album, Better Times Will Come. If the reaction of her fellow songwriters is any indication, she's produced something of a masterpiece. Two of the songs from her new record have been covered by some of the nation's most recognizable folk artists; Joan Baez covered 'Henry Russell's Last Words' on her Grammy-nominated album Day After Tomorrow, while Gretchen Peters has recorded If I Had a Gun". Notable names lending a hand on Better Times Will Come include Mary Gauthier, Nanci Griffith and Betty Elders, The Old Crow Medicine Show's Ketch Secor, and more.
Better Times Will Come uses deceptively simple lyrics which tell their stories with the hypnotic repetition and plain speech of old mountain song. Pay closer attention, though, and you ll hear a modern literary voice working with irony and implication. Listen, for example, to how skillfully Diana uses the subjunctive mood on her version of 'If I Had a Gun,' the conditional threat of a mistreated woman. Listen to how subtly Diana marks the passage of time in 'Henry Russell s Last Words,' based on a real letter written by a dying miner. Hear how true love and undeniable defects can coexist on 'Cracked and Broken.' The lyrics are not strictly autobiographical, but they echo Diana s own experiences.
'There are only so many songs I can write from my own particular story,' she concedes. 'I m constantly interested in other people's stories anyway. Anyone who wants to be my friend all they have to do is tell me a story. It s an interesting thing for me to approach my own internal landscape through other people's stories I ask myself, How would I write about that and be truly honest? It gives me a way to express my emotions in a bigger way, a more interesting way.'
At the beginning of 2007, more than 10 years after her first album, she was nominated as Best Emerging Artist at the Folk Alliance Awards. The nomination was entirely appropriate, for she had, without warning, emerged as a new kind of artist with a new kind of song. That recognition led to the tours with Richard Thompson and Mary Gauthier, to appearances at folk festivals on both sides of the Atlantic and to her powerful new album, Better Times Will Come.
This is what makes Diana Jones such an important new songwriting voice. She is able to take the facts of other people s lives or of her own and distill them into the fine whiskey of feeling. The facts are still there they provide the vivid details that allow us to imagine ourselves inside a collapsed mine shaft next to Henry Russell or in the dorm of an American Indian boarding school or in the Appalachian bus depot where a 'Soldier Girl,' with a green duffel bag over her shoulder, prepares to leave for boot camp. But the focus is always on the characters immense longing of Henry for his wife, of the young Indian student for her father, of the new soldier for the lover left behind the kind of longing we listeners can recognize, even if we ve never been in a mine, an Indian school or a boot camp.
That feeling is there in Diana s economical words, her hymn-like melodies, so simple and so sturdy, and in the keening sound of her drawling alto. Two years of hard touring since her last album have honed those skills. On this album, which includes her own version of 'Henry Russell's Last Words,' plus 'Soldier Girl,' 'Cracked and Broken' (an inspiring tribute to damaged survivors), and 'If I Had a Gun' (the chilling promise of an abused wife s vengeance), the distillation process is more thorough than ever and the liquor of emotion that much more potent. Geoffrey Himes
Diana Jones writes songs which she sings in such a haunting high lonesome that one can t help but wonder if she isn t the lost daughter of the Carter Family. --Ann Patchett, New York Times
Increasingly compared to the likes of Iris DeMent and Gillian Welch, Jones just might be the best American songwriter most people have never heard of. --Chicago Tribune