My sister introduced me to Alela Diane with the album, “Pirate’s Gospel”. It was alright. At the time it was fun and fresh with its fanciful wistful lyrics. It was cute, young, and most of all, naive. It had this view on Americana that said, “Hey look! I can do it too!” One song called, “Oh! My Mama” stood apart from the rest of the album. It seemed more personal than the rest. It wasn’t the lyrics as much, it just had this honest feel. It felt like the one real folk song on the record. I thought it was a one-off. But, as this album proves, I was completely wrong.
This album is her best by far. It’s been a long time since “Pirate’s Gospel”. And, if you want to know what changed it’s really simple. Alela found her muse. No, it’s not a man. If you want that album go listen to “About Farewell” which is all about her divorce. This album is all about motherhood. “Fuck!”, you might think, “ladies ain’t supposed to sing about that.” And, unfortunately, you would be right. There’s an instinct by most listeners to pass over any album dedicated to motherhood. We’ve been taught to think it will be sappy and gaudy with over-sentiment. Single songs? Sure. There’s a small collection of suitable mother songs, but none of them really want to be too specific about the songs being about a baby. These have been the rules when it comes to women and songwriting. You can just picture that short little man who came up with these rules sitting behind a large oak desk in his studio, his face hiding behind a short cigar hanging out the corner of his mouth, and wearing his short little black suit as he says, “Sorry toots, ya jus’ can’t hack it. First off, half the audience won’t relate and, what about after all this hullabaloo when that tummy gets tucked back in?” The goal of motherhood in the public eye, for the past while, has been how fast you can pop back into that sexy figure you had before having the kid. This album stands over that little man and his desk and secretes a fat placenta all over his face and then convinces him it’s beautiful.
“So Tired” is about how tiring labour is. “Never Easy” is how Alela finds a new appreciation for her own mother. “Yellow Gold” is about parenthood. “Wild Ceaseless Song,” directly addresses her own daughter. “Émigré” is about a mother in the refugee crisis. “Moves Us Blind” and “Threshold” are about how crazy fast time moves. This album is all about motherhood and it’s fucking beautiful.
I do hope more hidden subjects come to light over time. And I really hope that they are done as well as this. Folk is based upon a naked and fearless honesty executed with simple elegance. This album is all of that and then some.
“I know now what every mother knows, of what it is to watch your heart escape your chest.” Alela Diane in “Wild Ceaseless Song”