Suspend the disbelief that greets the hyperbole with which much music is released and go to Diana Jones’s Better Times Will Come with unfettered ears. Jones, originally a New Yorker, is a singer-songwriter with a spiritual home in the Appalachians and this, her second album, is a thing of glory. Comparisons are being made with Gillian Welch and Iris DeMent, both wonderful musicians, but Jones is altogether something else. Better Times is an album loaded with the instrumentation – fiddle, steel guitar, banjo and mandolin – of American roots music, but the sentiment has been revitalized by a new clarity.
Is it possible that this results from the distance that Jones has from a chosen style? Perhaps, for there is nothing taken for granted here, no laziness, no accepted material. So on incredible songs such as ‘If I Had a Gun’ (and there is a masterly emotion here) and ‘All God’s Children’ (sung from the point of view of a foster child coming of age), the impact is direct. Even more so on ‘Henry Russell’s Last Words’, a song whose real-life lyrics were provided by a dying miner entombed after a caving disaster. All this is helped by Jones’s voice, an unwavering one with a gift for storytelling, as much as her strong, sinewy songs. Back-up vocals from the incomparable Nanci Griffiths and alt country star Mary Gauthier flesh out Jones’ narratives and make Better Times Will Come an album of exceptional richness and reward.