Diane Craig's Fortunes Told is a little bit country, a little bit bluegrass and all the way wonderful. Featuring 11 songs of pure south Appalachian perfection, this little gem is one of the finest releases to emerge this year from a Houston-area artist.
Fortunes Told was waxed in Huntsville, Alabama, where Craig was born, with several of that area's finest musicians. While there's plenty of fiddle, mandolin and Dobro, there's an odd shortage of the instrument arguably most identified with bluegrass: The banjo is present on only the two "purest" bluegrass tunes. The other pickers take up the slack with flair, however, and to their credit, the banjo is not missed at all.
Craig is a veteran of Nashville's high-stakes Bluebird Cafe scene, and the polish of that competition shows. While the Galveston-area resident may lack the sweet tones of female bluegrass warblers like Claire Lynch or Alison Krauss, Craig makes up for it with her unique, husky, worldly, wise voice, which sounds a little like Marianne Faithfull with a mountain twang. Wisdom lives in them there pipes, which is a good thing since these songs demand a certain weight. Co-written with longtime songwriting partner poet Don Woodson of Jasper, Alabama, the material here is pregnant with meaning. Of special interest to local listeners is her heartfelt paean to Townes Van Zandt, inspired by the wall of Townes at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston. Like the rest of the album, it is full of sentiment but not overly sentimental, which is no mean trick, especially in a tribute song. Think of Elton John's hastily rewritten "Candle in the Wind" for how not to do this.
All of the material here seems to exist outside of time. Any one of these songs feels as if it could have been written anytime in the last century rather than in the last couple of years. While they may live out of time, they most definitely live in a place, and that is the moist and cool north Alabama mountains. But unlike the hilly terrain that gave it birth, this album speaks not of peaks and valleys. Instead it is a plateau, and a very high one at that.
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