HER LATEST ALBUM & MORE
About Diane Ward
By Greg Baker
There’s something to be said for beauty in this world. And something to be said about it.
One thing beauty suggests is eternality. Cute-pretty, glamour-allure and suchlike can sink to trite and tiresome quick. Bubblegummy pop-hop electro hits of the minute offer a sugary rush, but in this age of instant disposability there’s still a hunger for songs of substance and the artists who create and deliver them time after time, year after year. If you can get both push-button oh-yeah’s and lasting joy you’re damn lucky. And probably already a fan of Diane Ward.
The venerable South Florida femme-vocale has been a soldier in the war against throwaway ditty-fluff since she was a teen-ager. And all along dualities have been at the core of any plaintext attempt to delineate and describe her specialness.
The new album Beautiful Ways only increases the difficulties of critically synopsizing her cliché-defying gift for making art that is simultaneously ethereal and trenchant. Fortunately for fans all that means is another opportunity to float on warm dream currents and get their hearts sliced open, pretty much at the same time.
As usual the epistemological effort begins with the celebrated voice. Smooth and sweet as buttercream and as provocative as a punch in the eye – yeah, Ward’s powerful cords have often led describers to the land of simile and metaphor. “Honey in a blender” (dulcet and stirring, that is) and “like taffy” (stretches much but never breaks) show the lengths some journos will go to. The flipside? While it’s undeniable that Diane Ward’s vocals are a magnificent blessing to the music-listening universe, praise for them can overshadow a versatility that has sweetened each stylistic endeavor, from her blond-vixen days fronting the deceptively serious-minded Bootleg (which changed drummers and became known as the Wait) and her black-leather stint rocking out with Voidville to the solo career she undertook in 1995.
It takes more than the smart application of a complex and resonant voice to consistently expand one’s fan following, bring in awards, and gobsmack critics the way Ward has.
Deft songwriting, multi-instrumental virtuosity, remarkable soundcraft have been cited by an array of reviewers beginning with her solo debut Mirror and continuing through Move (which added a “Best Rock CD” of 2000 award from City Link magazine to her serial honorings as “Best Rock Vocalist” from New Times) through the tour de force (everyone calls it that, with reason) The Great Impossible. Her 2006 long-player Wonderlight rekindled the ol’ duality struggle – that gorgeous CD contrasted her ability to make gossamer music one moment (on the record and in certain acoustic venues) and blow the roof off the joint in others (with a full backing band).
Throughout this bright recording arc – and in a seemingly infinite variety of live settings – Ward has been accompanied by Jack Shawde, a revered guitarist who’s never met a stringed instrument he couldn’t master and then take to higher levels. As Ward’s co-producer he embodies the idea that while there is no such thing as perfection that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) strive to achieve it. Their shared determination to craft immaculate recordings (not to mention their preternatural mutualism across the musical board) resonates in the material’s frozen-lake combination of smooth bright surface atop stunning depth.
Beautiful Ways not only continues that tradition but brightens and deepens it – this is about as high as “production values” can get. Longtime fellow trouper Debbie Duke again contributes her potent bass ingenuity and veterans John Yarling (drums) and Nicole Yarling (vocals) add even more layers of sophistication and intricacy. Bob Taylor’s on organ for two tracks and Chaim Rubinov cameos on flugelhorn. And that’s the famed John Merchant (who mixed the CD, with Bob Katz mastering) adding that cool stuff (described in the credits as “loops and arrangement”) to “Eve of a Broken Heart.” Ward herself plays keyboards, tambourine and other percussion, piano (in the gorgeous and haunting “Georgia Rain”), and drums. There are a thousand elements to hear here, and many more to feel.
Listeners, naturally, are free to take this music as they choose, but a reviewer is faced with the challenge of trying to do justice to a sort of sonic trompe l’oeil (or maybe it’s a syllogism): the supernal, the substantive, and the rare merging of the two to form a third, um, thing.
Beautiful Ways serves up ten songs that can be enjoyed on a visceral level, affecting a certain pleasure center in the brain known to neuroscientists as the Primary Grooving Cortex and in critspeak as “juicy hooks and killer melodies.” But they are also well worthy of emotional and intellectual consideration – not worthy, they demand it, embedding their ebbs and flows and soars and dives in a deep secret place and almost subliminally drawing you back for another listen, and another. Which is okay, because this is the sort of music that can withstand eternal indulgences. Yes, the duality again: The music here is completely satisfying and gratifying, but you still want more, to hear it one more time, ten more times, a thousand times again. That’s the thing. A beautiful thing. – Greg Baker
Coming up: Diane is in pre-production and gearing up to record her 6th album which will be another co-production & creative endeavor with Jack Shawde. She has also signed with AbFab Artists and collaborating with songwriters from all over the world. Stay tuned!