Diana Jones gets ‘High’ channeling Appalachian tunes
Purity is inherent in the songs of Appalachia. Nashville-based singer and songwriter Diana Jones believes that the old mountain hymns and forest ballads continue to ring true to this day because the people who composed them did so without any pretense.
“They weren’t singing because they had a career, or wanted to go on stage,” Jones says of the music first pioneered in the mountain ranges of the eastern United States. “They were singing because it was a part of their community and society.”
The progenitors of the music were attempting to make sense of natural disasters, love, crop booms and busts, life and death, says Jones, who adeptly channels the sounds of the Appalachian range on her latest record, High Atmosphere, released April 5.
The music of Appalachia has always resonated with Jones, who will bring her show to Don Quixote’s in Felton on Wednesday, June 15. She says that even as she grew up in New York, she always felt a connection to the melodies and stories she heard coming from the mountains.
But it wasn’t until Jones—who was adopted as an infant—found her birth family living in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee that she began to fully understand how deep the connection was.
There, she was reconnected with her grandfather, Robert Lee Maranville, a Knoxville guitarist who honed his chops as a young man playing in bands with Chet Atkins. Maranville, Jones says, helped her realize that the music of the mountains was in her blood.
“It was really great to get it from him first-hand,” Jones says of learning about the Appalachian tradition from her grandfather. Before she met Maranville, Jones says she felt that playing mountain songs would have been somehow disingenuous. “It gave me the sense that I could sing that music too, that it was a part of me.”
After Maranville’s death in 2000, Jones fled the big city, leaving behind the East Coast folk music scene that had shaped her early songwriting. She sealed herself inside of a small cabin in the woods of Massachusetts and started over.
During Jones’ hermetical retreat, the seeds of her reinvention were sown. In 2006, she eulogized her late grandfather with My Remembrance of You, which she followed with Better Times Will Come, and an EP, Sparrow.
Her voice, which she describes as “quirky,” is a perfect fit for her old-timey style. She sings in a low, earthy twang that reinforces the austerity of her plain-spoken lyrical constructions. To add dynamism, Jones has the ability to seamlessly break into a breathy falsetto and slip back down again before the listener has a chance to notice.
Her musical abilities have earned her favorable mentions from music critics in The New York Times and on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” program.
On High Atmosphere, Jones, who normally sings a cappella or over sparse guitar accompaniment, is backed by a full band. The album was recorded live, which Jones says helped capture the songs in their most natural state.
When Jones plays in Felton Wednesday, however, she will be solo—and that’s just how she likes to be on stage. “I think that I really like that intimacy,” she says. “I really like that feeling. Because to me, it’s more about telling a story.”
INFO: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 15. Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. $10. 603-2294.