“To Begin” is a song of purpose and know-how, laced with the feel of compositions that were long-ago written on pads of paper and worked out by human beings on physical instruments. Whether knowingly or not, Carole King floats through this tune as a guiding spirit, and the listener is lighter and brighter for it.
In any case, from the opening bars here, Alela Diane has clearly put down the “(freaky) girl with guitar” mantle with a “good riddance” sort of authority. “To Begin” begins with a Supertrampy keyboard banging out the IV note rather than the tonic (which we don’t land on till 0:18); we open in an engaging state of flux, and not an acoustic guitar in sight. Diane gives us a characteristic melismatic vocal leap in the first lyric (on “golden light,” at 0:15), the sort that “White As Diamonds” was all about when we checked in with her in 2009, but that melody doesn’t repeat. The song moves on—it’s all about movement, this one—and with fewer of the yodelly acrobatics we hear her strong and lovely voice (part brass, part velvet) as if for the first time. She sings with so much authority that she gives us the ear-grabbing chorus only once(!); be sure not to miss that CK-flavored chord change through the lyric “Have you lived before this time?” (specifically the pivot from 1:05 to 1:06).
“To Begin” is the (yup) first song on Diane’s upcoming album, Alela Diane & Wild Divine, named after the band she’s been playing with, which not only includes her husband Tom Bevitori, but her father, Tom Menig. The album, produced by Scott Litt, will be out in early April on Rough Trade Records. MP3 via Spinner.