The third in a trilogy of albums exploring her southern roots, with "High Atmosphere," Diana Jones has made her boldest musical statement to date. How does one describe a voice that is so unusual - full, deep, warm, and feminine - that comparisons are largely inadequate? Yes, there is some Cheryl Wheeler phrasing in there, some Mary Gauthier sharpness lurking in the darkness, but Jones is truly her own singer.
Describing Jones as a modern Ola Belle Reed seems too precious, but there it is: the affecting manner in which she sings about death, family challenge, the unknown, and love bring to mind the North Carolinian as it does no one else. Consider the lyrics of Poverty, a cornerstone song of "High Atmosphere":
Busy being born or dying
You have left your children crying
More will come to work for sure
Worried, tired, sick and poor.
Such emotion would not have been out of place on Folkways' "My Epitaph."
Instrumentally, "High Atmosphere" includes a rich cross-section of largely acoustic Americana sounds. Co-producer Ketch Secor's (Old Crow Medicine Show) fiddle is adroitly placed, allowing it to serve as a link between phrases, verses, and songs. While there is substantial backing, the instrumentalists know their role. Skillfully arranged, the musicians - on bass, mandolin, banjo, guitar, drums, and keys - allow Jones space, providing colorful support at every turn.
Funeral Singer brings to mind the agreements many have made to speak or sing at a friend's funeral, never knowing which will have to make good on the promise. The heartache of Drug For This balances the lack of love in Poor Heart. The outcome of Sister is as plain as a mountain murder ballad, with the twist that the murderer is patiently a-waiting impetus to act.
The heart and soul of Diana Jones, as authentic as the stone of the Smoky Mountains from which she was born, is apparent in every note of "High Atmosphere."