Diana Jones felt the pull of the Appalachians long before she discovered that her birth family hailed from Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, and she has dedicated her career to upholding the mountain ballad traditions of her forebears – a tradition which comes with Scottish connections as we discovered at this intimate show.
Glad Cafe, Glasgow
Star rating: * * *
It helps that her evocative, earnest contralto sounds like it is resonating down the decades from some old field recording, but even more so that Jones is such a gifted storyteller, able to set a scene with a few lyrical brushstrokes.
As is the country way, her subject matter in this set ranged from domestic tribulations to funeral arrangements, from “a peppy little number called Poverty” to the ever hopeful Better Times Will Come. Jones was adept at conveying a fresh angle on those well-worn hillbilly topics of hellfire and alcohol with her spiritual cautionary tale O Sinner and mountain soap opera Drunkard’s Daughter, in addition to providing a feminist perspective on the traditional murder ballad and infusing seafarer’s ode Ohio with an English folk influence.
Several of her love songs tended to the winsome mainstream minstrelsy of her adopted home of Nashville, with the powerful exception of Henry Russell’s Last Words. This simple beseeching valediction, inspired by a letter written in coal by a Scottish miner to his wife shortly before he suffocated in a pit explosion in West Virginia, provided the evening’s most moving illustration of her human touch.