Songwriter Diana Darby's brand-new IV (Intravenous) is a record of fragile beauty 

Nature's Way

Nature's Way

If you enjoy a good pop-music paradox, you could pay heed to the way Diana Darby camouflages her own self-expression throughout her new full-length, IV (Intravenous). Over the course of an under-the-radar career, Darby has performed the song-poetry of heightened consciousness — IV merely transfers her slowed-down pop sense to new areas of lassitude. The Nashville singer-songwriter traffics in solipsistic modes of self-expression, and the resulting music is bracing, alienated and sometimes unreadable. It's a version of pop, and all the stranger for its attempt to play by pop's rules.

Born in Houston, Texas, on June 14, 1964, Darby picked up her first guitar when she was 16, and graduated from high school a year early. She went to Los Angeles, where she attended USC and majored in theater, with a minor in music. Still, the future folk-rocker had little interest in seeking a career as a singer.

"I did a lot of music-theory classes, but it wasn't really what I was setting out to do at that point," says Darby. "I wrote screenplays and ended up doing some TV writing, and I started writing songs with a lot of people in L.A. who were successful writers, and they liked my work so much, they suggested I move to Nashville."

Darby came to Nashville in 1996, and credits a chance encounter with singer Malcolm Holcombe with pushing her into singing.

"I went to a pickin' party where Malcolm Holcombe was, and he heard me sing some songs, and invited me to do a round with him and Stacey Earle at Douglas Corner," Darby says. "It was at that round I realized that if I'm gonna be singing songs, I wanna sing songs that are more me. That all happened around the time we started making the first album."

Released in 2000, Darby's Naked Time revealed a singer with a deliberate — and very breathy — vocal style. Built around Darby's skeletal guitar riffs, the arrangements on Naked Time encompassed country rock and garage pop, complete with David Henry's cello and the spooky lap steel of producer Mark Spencer.

Darby now says the sessions for her first record were unusual in several ways.

"We got together with Mark Spencer in Brooklyn, and he had Will Rigby come and play drums, and we just started laying down the songs," she says. "At that time, I didn't even know I was making a record. I hadn't even toured much or performed much, and here I was in the studio making a record first."

Darby released the full-length Fantasia Ball in 2003, with The Magdalene Laundries coming two years later. For IV, Darby cut guitar and vocal tracks in New York before finishing the new record in Nashville with Henry and, on acoustic bass, Viktor Krauss. Despite its superficial resemblance to Americana, IV employs the creepy, crepuscular chord changes of Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett. With her slow tempos and measured delivery, Darby evokes circa-1966 psychedelic pop, while such songs as "Oh Butterfly" and "Buttercup" take a complex view of the natural world.

It's a record of fragile beauty — Darby never raises her voice even when she's detailing the domestic drama of "Heaven." It's a powerful rendering of a daughter coming to grips with her mother's illness: "My mother cries, 'My father is a Jew' / My mother reads the Bible in her bed." In its oblique way, IV is an account of the difficulties of autonomy, with a melancholy, unnerving undertone that reminds us that some whispers carry very bad news.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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