Alela Diane Menig dedicates her second album to "the pines, the river and the ocean deep", all of which played a part in making this songwriter from rural northern California the moving artist she is. Her debut, The Pirate's Gospel - voted best album of 2007 by the Rough Trade chain - introduced her world of isolated hamlets and forests at dusk, and To Be Still expands on it with the vivid addition of mandolin, cello and banjo. Nearly every song is informed by nature: from the snow that creates "such a stillness, calm as the owl glides" on White As Diamonds to the woodland copse where "wind blows the tiny green helicopter seeds" in The Alder Trees. To this is added a homespun voice that recalls Beth Orton and Kristin Hersh, yet is creakily, plaintively Menig's own. The result: something greater than the sum of its parts, and one of this year's lovelier albums.
Alela Diane, To Be Still
Caroline Sullivan writes about rock and pop for the Guardian