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Diane blossoms into a fuller sound

Posted by James Reed  June 17, 2011 02:59 PM

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(Photo by Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)

ALELA DIANE
With the Parson Red Heads
At: Brighton Music Hall, last night

By James Reed
Globe Staff

Alela Diane has come a long way from the night she performed at the Lily Pad in Cambridge a few years ago. To a rapt room of maybe 30 people, the California folk musician played with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a female back-up singer. Unhappy with the sound mix, she unplugged her guitar and sang as if we were in her living room.

That’s all Diane needed to do back in 2007. But since then she has matured into a singer-songwriter of vast emotional depth and a broader musical palette. As if to highlight her evolution, when she played at the Brighton Music Hall last night, Diane gave a telling preface to one of her earliest songs.

"I’m going to play one by myself, for old time’s sake,” she said and then fingerpicked a luminous rendition of “The Rifle.”

It was a fond but distant memory within the context of the rest of the show. Diane has moved away from her early stripped-down aesthetic; now she mines pure California gold in an earthy ’70s sound that hovers somewhere between country rock and Laurel Canyon folk. Her two most recent records have been band efforts, and her newer material calls for more than an acoustic guitar – a driving drumbeat here, a wash of pedal steel there.

Diane rendered her fuller sound beautifully at Brighton Music Hall, backed by a five-piece band that was a family affair. Tom Bevitori, her husband and muse (“He’s a charmer/ My man of many colors,” Diane sang on “Of Many Colors”), played acoustic guitar to her right. Meanwhile Diane’s father, Tom Menig, added subtle but vibrant color on electric and mandolin.

Playing most of her latest album, “Alela Diane & Wild Divine,” with just a few older songs thrown in, Diane made it clear she’s not interested in looking back. Her voice, which was always strong, now resonates with a confidence that’s tempered only by her high-lonesome croon you'd expect from a dusty field recording.

A few of Diane’s newer songs took on a different meaning in a live setting. With the opening act, the Parson Red Heads, keeping the beat on tambourines, “To Begin” bounced with a playfulness you don’t hear on the new album.

For a split second, it looked like Diane was dancing, or at least swaying her hips. The moment could not have been further from that night at the Lily Pad – and it couldn’t have been any better, either.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com. 

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The latest news, commentary, and reviews on music in Boston and beyond.

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Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.

Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.

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