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Alela Diane: Cusp review – the agonies and ecstasies of motherhood

Alela Diane
Alela Diane. Photograph: Jaclyn Campanaro

Oregon-based singer-songwriter Alela Diane Menig’s outstanding fifth album is the result of her confronting what she sees as one of the more ridiculous remaining artistic taboos – that women should not write songs about having babies. The singer has form when it comes to going deep – 2013’s melancholy About Farewell documented her painful break-up from husband and band-member Tom Bevitori – and Cusp gains much from exploring motherhood’s agonies as well as ecstasies.

Her thoughtful, dreamy vocals drift across a grand piano, providing both pretty and wistful songs with emotional wallop. Never Easy finds a new appreciation of her own mother; So Tired addresses the fatigue of labour; Threshold and Moves Us Blind are sublime ruminations on the passage of time.

The most powerful songs use motherhood as a lens to examine wider issues. The much-seen photograph of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, prompts the eerily beautiful Émigré, a mother’s empathic response to the refugee crisis wherein “the children have grown silent, from their mothers’ arms they float away”. Similarly, Song for Sandy pays heartfelt tribute to singer (and audible influence) Sandy Denny, who died aged 31 after some chaotic final days, but doesn’t flinch from reflecting on the impact on her orphaned daughter.

The album title comes from Menig’s near-death during childbirth, and her subsequent realisation that we are forever “on the cusp” between death and life, heartbreak and euphoria, all of which are in fulsome supply here.

This article titled "Alela Diane: Cusp review – the agonies and ecstasies of motherhood" was written by Dave Simpson, for The Guardian on Friday 9 February 2018 09.00am

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