Developing a career in the music business involves a lot more than just musical ability. There are, of course, those lucky breaks every performer needs to get wider exposure, which are usually the result of being in the right place at the right time. Getting there generally means being making one's presence known as often as possible through constant touring, and through developing a fan base -- processes that tend to be long and gradual. There are very few performers who become an overnight success. Though the popular perception of performers is that music is all they do, sometimes one is reminded that artists are people too. This week, we have a fine new album by a New England singer-songwriter who had a very promising career five years ago, then decided to stop and devote her energies to her family, dropping out of the musical scene. Now, she is more or less starting that process of building momentum all over.
She is Diane Zeigler, and her new recording,
her first since 1995, is called These Are the Roots. She is also starting
over in the sense that after being affiliated with a record label, she
has released this CD on her own.
Vermont resident Zeigler has had an interesting career. She wrote her first song for her brother who at age 21 was dying of cancer. He heard her homemade recording of the song from his hospital bed. Diane was 19 at the time. Struck by his loss, Ms. Zeigler decided to become a volunteer in Venezuela and worked running an orphanage. Her interest in songwriting grew there as a way of coping with the stress of the job. After returning home, she attended the Kerrville, Texas, folk festival, with its emphasis on emerging songwriters, first as a volunteer and eventually as a performer, where she won several awards. With those accolades under her belt, she released her debut CD Sting of the Honeybee in 1995, which began to attract attention on a national basis. But not long afterward, learning that she was pregnant, she decided to put her musical career on the shelf and devote herself to raising her two childen. During that five years, she continued to write, and eventually decided to resume her performing career. Working with her husband and bassist Geoff Sather as co-producer, Ms. Zeigler went to work recording some of the songs she penned during her hiatus from the music business. The result is These Are the Roots, a fine CD that re-introduces us to a thoughtful lyricist and tunesmith with a warm, clear, and very attractive voice. The generous 14-song CD also features exceptionally tasteful musical backing and production.
That accompaniment is supplied by a
small group which includes Sather on the bass, electric guitarist Josh
Colow, who was the third of this CD's co-producers, drummer Dean Sharp,
keyboard man T-Bone Wolk, with additional guitars from Bruce Stockwell
and a cameo appearance on guitar by 60s folk veteran Artie Traum, who co-produced
her first album.
Ms. Zeigler combines appealing, and at times almost pop-influenced tunes with lyrics that tend to be metaphorical, with some clearly inspired by her experience raising her family. These Are the Roots opens with
· What You've Always Known, perhaps the song most likely to appeal to wider audiences with its more pop-tinged stylistic direction, though its lyrics are in keeping with Ms. Zeigler's reputation as an articulate songwriter. In this case she considers how life's experiences can remind one of some long-known basic truths.
· The title song These Are the Roots is a pleasing affirmation of one's place in the world and the attraction of home. Ms. Zeigler wrote one of the best new wedding songs I have heard in a while. It's called Holy Ground, nicely performed on the CD. It has the potential to become a real standard at matrimonial ceremonies, given enough exposure
· Among the more introspective compositions on the album is Forgiveness, which considers the bumpy parts of a relationship.
· In a somewhat similar vein lyrically is This Too Shall Pass, though the song could apply to almost any difficult situation. T-Bone Wolk's accordion adds a rootsy touch.
· The song that epitomizes Ms. Zeigler's reflections on family life is I Know My Baby's Cry. It quietly makes powerful statements about life's choices.
· Perhaps the album's most distinctive lyrics come on In Defense of Eve, which looks at the Biblical story from a rather different perspective.
· Another of the CD's highlights is The Ballad of Enoch Arden, which musically retells the Tennyson poem about a woman who loved two men, one of whom went away to sea and was presumably lost there.
· The album ends with a reflection of life in the country, Jack's Belted Galloways, about an old farmer and his prized cows. Artie Traum makes his appearance on the second guitar.
Diane Zeigler's new CD These Are the Roots is an appealing and articulate album by a talented singer-songwriter whose music can range from introspective to tunefully bouncy. The original material is uniformly high in quality, and the CD's production is a model of the right way to do a record like this -- with arrangements that widen the appeal of the songs, without undermining them. The playing by all the musicians is the model of restraint and good taste, adding just the right ingredients without distracting from the songs. …Sonically, the album is a class act.