When I reviewed Diana Jones‘ previous album, High Atmosphere I said it simultaneously sounded sixty years old and contemporary. Her careworn voice and superb ability to author heartbreaking tales of hardship and woe had a deep affinity to pre-war country recordings while the delivery by a stellar bunch of musicians led by producer Ketch Secor was top notch. Two years later and with a bunch of songs written while on tour Jones decided to eschew a studio with “isolation booths for a variety of musicians to overdub parts” and instead headed for the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, a living museum and part of the Smithsonian Institute where she set up shop in a cabin with Matt Combs (fiddle, mandolin, banjo, mandola, viola) and Shad Cobb (fiddle, mandolin, guitar). With a log fire, one electrical outlet and one naked light bulb in the cabin they spent two days recording and the end result is this Museum of Appalachia Recordings album, 11 songs that are as old as the hills and as fresh as today’s milk.
Jones’ voice stands out immediately with its air of resignation and wearied tone. At times reminiscent of Karen Dalton she sounds as if she’s lived these tales. And such tales. Jones tries to show a redemptive path to God’s grace on O Sinner while Drunkards Daughter is a cautionary tale of how the sins of the father rest on the daughter. Song For a Worker is an uplifting song of praise to the Lord’s day when the workers rest and worship while Satan sets the temptation of Jesus to a mandolin driven jaunt. The overall tone of the album is reverential reflecting the God fearing folk of past times, humbled in their poverty, battered and bowed on a daily basis but buttressed by a belief in their faith and the promise of a better life thereafter. Misguided perhaps but there’s no denying that back in the days this belief allowed folk to endure hardship we can’t imagine now and Jones captures this with an astounding veracity. Simply put every song here is a delight and sitting back listening to the strings and things melting and meshing together one can almost imagine sitting in that log cabin and being transported to those yesteryears. An excellent record.