Cover of Diana Jones album “Song to a Refugee.” Courtesy Proper Records
The exquisite singer-songwriter Diana Jones reached a career peak with the 2020 release of her album Song to a Refugee, which I reviewed when it was released. However, at the time, her British label, Proper Records, only released it in the British Isles and Europe, even though the Greenwich Village-based artist’s inspiration and focus was the U.S. border crisis during the Trump administration’s travesty of policy cruelty.
The issue remains painful as righting the horrible wrongs of that administration will take time. Proper has now released the album stateside, prompting a fine interview feature from The New York Times. (Due to a peculiar Times change in link sharing, Culture Currents, as a Times subscriber, can only share the Diana Jones article link on my (Kevin Lynch) Facebook page post of this blog post).
Diana Jones, photographed for The New York Times
And here is my November review of the album, reposted:
Review: Diana Jones Song to a Refugee (Proper Records)
Tennessee-born singer-songwriter Diana Jones revealed a genius for inhabiting, with uncanny authenticity, spirits of the dispossessed, as early as her stunning 2006 song “Pony.” There, she put a young Native American’s poignant, painful reminisces right in the lap of our memories.
Today, the album’s guest artists Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger help underscore that she’s the perfect artistic spokesperson for Southern border refugees. Consider the Trump administration’s cruel separation of hundreds of children from their parents, a dilemma the Biden presidency will struggle to resolve.
“The brutal policy of family separation stands in for every other episode of (The Trump administration’s) cruelty, and transcends them all,” writes James Fallows in The Atlantic. ” ‘We’ve been declared in some respects a state sponsor of child abuse by friends overseas,’ ” John R. Allen, a retired four-star Marine Corps general who now is president of the Brookings Institution, told Fallows. “ ‘Having friends and allies declare this as state-sponsored child abuse is a stain on our national soul that will take a long time to remedy.’ ”
Jones’s Song allows us to feel the torn and bereft families’ experience, perhaps to move us to act: My brothers name is Leo, mine is Gabriel/ 46 and 47 but the numbers do not tell/ what we wish and what we long for what we love and what we miss/ our papa’s crazy stories and our mama’s gentle kiss/ this is where are.
Here’s the compulsively incantatory “I Wait for You”: I walked for miles across many borders alone/ over oceans to make it here/ when nights are cold I sing lullabies/ the sun refuses to shine/ I sing for you/no work no pride, some wait for years to find…you have all my heart while we are apart/someday I hope you understand/ when I sent for you and you come to me/ and you come to me we will be free.”
Her singing can be at once maternal, sisterly, and autobiographical. At times, you can almost taste desert dust.
Diana Jones. Courtesy The New York Times
“Santiago” carries special poignance:
Here I stand in my hands is a rosary/ all I own and you take it/ a gift for my grandmother I was seven years old… Then came the killing and the fire/ we had to run some did not make it/ a little boy name Santiago stayed by my side/ his mother’s final words were he’s a good boy you can see/ I’ve never been a father but I would like to be
I know of no more artful evocation of a contemporary human experience that may be too alien for ordinary Americans to fully comprehend.
Throughout the album, Jones switches points of view. She also conjures vivid and sometimes emotionally engulfing metaphors, as in “The Sea is My Mother.” Yet, always her limpid, luminous voice sounds like an angel on a desolate shoulder, witness to a forsaken heart.
America, the land famously welcoming “your huddled masses,” this is where we are.
My brother’s name is Leo, mine is Gabriel/ 46 and 47, but the numbers do not tell.
Here’s a sample from the album, the song “We Believe You,” which features guest performances by Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger.