First Listen
9:12 pm
Sun February 23, 2014

First Listen: Diane Cluck, 'Boneset'

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 8:51 am

Diane Cluck has been under-appreciated for so long, it's hard not to try to make up for lost time. So, before you listen to Boneset for the first time, take a few minutes to listen to one of the best songs of the last 10 years: "All I Bring You Is Love," from Cluck's fourth album Oh Vanille / Ova Nil.

Then, proceed with the rest of her story. Cluck is a 14-year veteran of what used to be called the "anti-folk" scene, which encompassed anyone who approached folk music like early Mountain Goats: non-conformists with acoustic guitars. That's not to say that Cluck sounds remotely like John Darnielle — her voice is traditionally beautiful, albeit not always employed that way — but they share an ethos that not all folk music needs to sound soft.

A decade ago, Cluck's work often recalled that of Joanna Newsom; both borrowed more from British folk tradition than Greenwich Village. Their songs unfurled in curlicues instead of straight lines, their voices contorting to mystical effect. The main difference, looking back, is that Cluck's spirals spin clockwise, always inward, whereas Newsom's unwind outward, ever expanding.

On Boneset, her seventh album and first in eight years, Cluck channels a different deified California songwriter, the late Judee Sill. It's not the lyrical content so much as the inflection of her voice: There's something in the way she ever-so-slightly elongates and bends her vowels that's reminiscent of Sill's Laurel Canyon lilt.

Not that Cluck has retired her signature warble. Just listen to the last track on Boneset, "Sara," to hear what she can do with her voice when she pushes it to the limit. It's a perfect example of why Cluck's fans have treasured her discography during her extended hiatus, and why it's so exciting to finally have her back.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.