Some folk singer-songwriter approaches seem to never go out of style. Why should they if they are still effective? Diane Patterson is effective -- a young singer who may or may not know her art is carved out of the traditions of early Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Mimi Farina, a little Joan Baez, Melanie Safka and an obscure singer-songwriter who has been resurrected of late – Ruthann Friedman.
On her album “Open Road,” Diane has captured the light and airy folk songwriting of early Joni quite effectively. That period of “Ladies of the Canyon,” and “Song to a Seagull.” There is nothing heavy here or political it’s just to be appreciated in the spirit in which it was written. Lots of references to nature, children, and the open road. “Rogue River Highway,” has all that optimistic 60’s-Woodstock nation joy without being in a retro gear. Diane’s words are sharp too – she isn’t just mining Joni’s early territory she has mastered the spirit of it and that's not an easy thing to do. At times, her voice even echoes Joni’s young voice and her hints of vibrato is a fine example of a great singer who always lasts to the ribbon at the end of the race.
“You’re the light as you weave across the grassland…” -- that’s quite nice. I’m a sucker for any songwriter that avoids clichés and gets creative with their pen as well as their guitars and voice.
More percussive and enthusiastic is “Spliff Song.” Some don’t know a spliff is -- it's a joint. A doobie. And here Diane has incorporated it into a clever little tale with all the 60’s trimmings of good songwriting and storytelling. What makes Diane valuable with this style is that she is not bathed in nostalgia and drugged out images. No hippie-dippy messages. She is serious. She weaves some mystical lyrics without sounding preachy and mind-blowing. She offers a positive message with no crazy ideals. This song is closer to what Ruthann Friedman was trying to do with her first album “Constant Companion” ("People").
While Diane is not as deep and intricate as a Judee Sill, she does have a natural talent for melody and mood. “If There Are Words,” starts with a heavy bass line (Todd Sickafoose). Diane’s voice is totally different here and it works in unison with singer-songwriter Alice DiMicele who offers background vocals to this compelling track.
“Full Moon,” is a light, distinctive melody sung in a sincere warm voice reminiscent of Judy Collins and the late Mimi Farina (Joan Baez’s younger sister). This song is so early Joni Mitchell in tradition. It’s not a copy, it’s not even an attempt to imitate. It just sounds like something Joni would have done. Todd’s bass also is evident in this track and even Joni was famous for having a great bass player (Jaco Pastorius). Diane has captured concisely in her songs the essence of another era and a glorious songwriting style. There will always be an audience for this type of song.
Diane Patterson plays acoustic guitars and the ukuleles. Track five “Baby Loves Love,” is brass-fueled and has a crisp beat from Terrence Higgins. Cagil Cokan adds the light touch flute while Max Ribner, Ben Ellman, and Charlie Halloran are the brass hounds. This song rocks a little more than the others but Diane never loses her songwriting methodology. She holds some good notes too on this tune. This touches upon latter-day white-soul Laura Nyro a little and it’s invigorating. I like the way Diane uses nonsensical singing to really enhance her melody. This is a good one.
“Raven,” follows and this was written by Marca Cassity – the only cover on the album. All other songs are Diane's. This song is a little more ecological and that’s fine by me. That’s typical of this type of singer but Diane injects solid organic energy into it. “I am craving flying with the raven…because she takes me between the two worlds…” Again, Diane manages to take words that someone else would use and render them cliched. Here, there is no cliché. She proceeds with her hardy lyrical approach. I admire that. A song like this would be reminiscent of Native American/World folk singer Norma Tanega. (“Walking My Cat Named Dog,” “The Street That Rhymes With 6 a.m.” and “No Stranger Am I” – which was covered by Dusty Springfield).
This is the voice that I appreciate the most by Diane Patterson – the one used in “Eagle Feather.” This is dynamic stuff. Al Torre offers wonderful guitar throughout this song and this possesses such a motivating lyric and melody. Very nice, the Native American imagery is rich – very much like Buffy Sainte-Marie.
“Shape of Your Sorrow,” and “Come on Rain,” features singer-songwriter, Ani DiFranco. Virtually every track here by Diane has value and will appeal someone in the audience. “…Sorrow” is a haunting song and once again shows the diversity of Patterson. Reference to those killed at the Florida club Pulse makes a strong statement. Dramatic. Powerful. And necessary.
Back in the 60’s artists were quick to write about something that mattered. “Ohio,” “Woodstock,” “For What It’s Worth” – but today, things happen and no one takes advantage of documenting the event in song. Folk singers are supposed to do this. Real ones anyway.
Diane Patterson has long taken that responsibility. Written eloquently and an alternate title for the song would have been “Tears That Fall on Your Guitar.” Diane takes a political position but she doesn’t stick it in your face – which allows her to appeal to many listeners.
“Come on Rain,” is excellent. It’s all in that Buffy Sainte-Marie mold (“Priests of the Golden Bull,” “Bad End” “Baby Don’t Cry” & “You’ve Got to Run”) and songs that are solid gold like these. Diane Patterson achieves this consistently as well. She is in many ways an artistic soul-sister to Buffy. My opinion and that says a lot.
These are not mere songs but statements that never tarnish or grow weak with time. Steppenwolf’s “Monster,” and “The Wall” are other songs that are far removed from just being something to sing. This song by Diane is probably the strongest song on the album and it’s a credit to her that she is doing what many are not doing. Janelle Burdell provides drums here, and Ani DiFranco provides guitar.
The final track is “Resolved,” and Julian Waterfall Pollack adds piano to this pensive song. Written with a hat tip for sure, again, to Buffy Sainte-Marie (unconsciously maybe) because this is typical of what Buffy has sung and written for over forty years. Diane Patterson has earned her spot right alongside Buffy – she is that good. She is that important. Her material is that valuable. Conservative, Liberal, Independent – who gives a shit. This is enlightening and it’s done in a manner that is easily understood with no agenda. How can you argue with buffalo and eagles, healing and forgiveness, and be resolved in silence?
Diane Patterson peacefully fills a void in her songwriting and performance. I don’t want her to be another Pete Seeger – Pete was a good man, and I met him. He achieved a lot and stood for many good things. But in some circles, he alienated people because he was…well, passionate. I didn’t always agree with him but I understood where he was coming from and respected it. Diane is a Buffy Sainte-Marie in the truest sense. And she will remind you that there is beauty at least in this world worth saving, and their issues that need to be resolved. But she isn’t a hard sell. And that will at least keep even her detractors listening to her. She has good words; great melodies and she sings with a strength that many simply do not have.
Diane’s CD was produced by Mike “Nappy” Napolitano. The CD package is a die-cut 4 panel fold out with a lyric sheet and credits and contains eleven tracks. The package was designed by Diane P.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / May 2018