During the final show of her UK tour, this accomplished alternative bluegrass singer-songwriter with her deep androgynous mountain alto, swept a little English market town off its rural feet in the back room at Leek’s Swan Hotel.
Diana Jones’s sumptuous southern drawl hung clear and fascinating in the silent air above the attentive heads of the audience as it was perfectly rendered via a pristine, though diminutive, sound desk.
She was simply lapped up in this mini 200-seater vaudeville venue by the intimate gathering who were reflected in the mirror over a candlestick-bedecked period fireplace. Flanked by prints of agricultural scenes hung on patterned, wall-papered walls, Ms Jones, cowboy boots, guitar and all, was dramatically silhouetted against the theatrical drapes on the tiny stage.
Depression era, hardship and mining-disaster lyrics held the atmosphere throughout her set and songs like ‘If I had a Gun’ came over honest, relentless and mystical, and as Gothic country classics even of the ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ or ‘Ring of Fire’ calibre. They rang out almost eerily in the dimmed amber light of the historic little room.
Sincere and austere yet altruistic and affable, between her songs Ms Jones shared her identification and empathy with her long suffering ancestors digging beneath the cold dark ground as well as with fallen fellows in modern theatres of war.
Enunciating a connectedness with the rarefied landscape of her beloved Appalachians, her moving lyrics bewail the ravaging of that mountain range by man’s relentless cutting down of its trees. I asked her about the exegesis of her wonderful ‘All’s God’s Children’, in which the 18-year-old protagonist, lost and alone on life’s highway goes “searching for faces that look like my own”. She explained her sympathies with her character when she told me she herself had been adopted as a baby. It was only later that, driven by a compelling instinct, she left the streets of New York to seek and find her southern mountain roots, as well as her musical ones in Nashville and its environs. Hoping to help the young and disaffected, she longed, she said, “to find that song a home” and give it a career helping a young person’s charity or project.
Acknowledging her country’s new president and not leaving us without an optimistic anthem for America’s new horizons, Diana bade farewell to rural England promising to return in early 2010. And most welcome she will be!