New band of the day - No 428: Alela Diane

Today's newbie boasts a brogue somewhere between the ballady burr of Dolores O'Riordan and gritty edge of Polly Harvey

Hometown: Nevada City, California.

The lineup:
Alela Diane Menig.
The background: The cover version has a long and illustrious history. These days, it's a derided genre, with every karaoke muppet and chavvy wannabe pop idol routinely blaring through the Bee Gees, George Michael or Abba songbooks with little attention paid to reshaping or deconstructing the tune in question. But time was when it was an artform: stars would arrive at a certain juncture in their lives and use the cover-versions album as an opportunity to take a breather, reassess their careers and perform a series of radically different versions of famous songs as a way of shedding new light on the magic and meaning of said music. In the 1970s, the heyday of the interesting cover version, there were David Bowie's Pin Ups, Bryan Ferry's These Foolish Things, Todd Rundgren's Faithful and Laura Nyro's Gonna Take a Miracle, and all these albums provided - still provide - fascinating insights into the minds of the artists and allow(ed) you to hear old new songs in startling new contexts, while telling you something about the past - and future - not just of the artist, but of pop music per se.
Alela Diane Menig, a folk musician from Nevada, does quite interesting things, makes unexpected decisions, on her album of cover versions, The Silence of Love. The actual title of the project is Headless Heroes, which is the name she, dance auteur David Holmes, New York A&R "guru" Eddie Bezalel (who worked on Mark Ronson's Versions, a decent, recent example of the form) and Primal Scream producer Hugo Nicholson have chosen for the venture. The actual playing is courtesy a bunch of instrumentalists (Josh Klinghoffer, Woody Jackson, Joey Waronker, Leo Abrahams and Gus Seyffert) who have worked with everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beck to Smashing Pumpkins and REM. With Menig's voice somewhere between the ballady burr of Dolores O'Riordan and gritty edge of Polly Harvey, and tracks chosen from the catalogues of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Daniel Johnston, I Am Kloot and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Silence of Love is an intriguing collection of songs. Intriguing? We mean haunting, ghostly, ethereal - folky, basically. So if you long to hear Jim and William Reid's Just Like Honey, particularly the part where Jim sings, "Eating up the scum/Is the hardest thing for/Me to do", only rendered in a spectral folk style, then you'll love what Menig does here. But after a while, the relentlessly raw, bleak, stripped-down, bare atmosphere begins to pall, and although the songs may differ considerably from the originals, they aren't sufficiently different from each other to sustain a whole album. So you're left with a quality ensemble performing hardly-known songs and a voice that knows how to do both mournful and powerful. Which is why you might be keen to hear Menig's own solo album when it comes out early next year. Meanwhile, if you happen to be in France tomorrow night, she's playing the Les Inrock festival alongside MGMT and Fleet Foxes. The buzz: "Stunning widescreen, windblown, reverb-soaked performances that transform the raw materials into countrified, folk-ed up beauties."
The truth: Cover versions of mostly obscure songs? You might as well wait to hear Menig tackle her own material.
Most likely to: Listen to the girl, as she takes on half the world.
Least likely to: Be your plastic toy.
What to buy: The Headless Heroes' The Silence of Love album is released on November 17, followed by the single The North Wind Blew South on December 15. Alela's solo album To Be Still is issued on February 16 2009.
File next to: Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Liz Green.
Tomorrow's new band: Black Tie.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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