Released June 10th, 2003
When Arthur Lee was released from prison, the first guitar he touched was Diana Darby’s; it and she haven’t been the same since. Her second album, Fantasia Ball, is unabashedly naked, and deliciously twisted. A childlike/dreamlike journey captured on 4-track cassette bringing to mind the intimacy of the third Velvet Underground LP.
The decision to strip things down further than on her acclaimed debut CD Naked Time (which landed Diana on NPR Weekend Edition, among other strange places) came about after Diana recorded a song for Nothing Left To Lose, a Kris Kristoferson tribute. Diana’s version of Jesus was a Capricorn, singled out as “a revelation” in the SF Weekly was recorded live in the studio.“I liked the feel of a one take vocal, so I resisted the temptation to re-do anything.” The logical progression was to record by herself at home.
From the first line of Fly Away "If I could be anything at all, I would step out of myself and I'd never call" to the conclusion of Blue Turns To Grey (a Rolling Stones song that Diana makes her own), the voice sounds like it's being whispered to you personally.
From the first line of Fly Away "If I could be anything at all, I would step out of myself and I'd never call" to the conclusion of Blue Turns To Grey (a Rolling Stones song that Diana makes her own), the voice sounds like it's being whispered to you personally. The performances captured are what Diana calls “suspended.” They are either first takes being sung as they were written, or radical re-workings that happened only once. “When I get suspended, it’s like something takes over me. I am in an altered state where everything else around me disappears.”Summer and Falling Down were influenced by the poetry of Mary Oliver. “It was May and the dogwood tree outside my window was already losing its petals. I started thinking about all of the things in this world I feel powerless over. And then I wrote Summer – ‘Better get yourself a flower before it’s too late’. I was referring to spring ending, but now I think it applies to the impending war and our loss of innocence. “
As for influences, she is known to have worn out CD copies of "Forever Changes" and "The Magical World of the Strands". Fly Away feels like a Gershwin song set to a Grimm's Fairy Tale, and Caroline is a daydream-like song about a girl who leaves a trail of roses everywhere she walked. The Only One Who's Listening combines fatalism with White Album-esque beauty, and Summer is a music box mind trip with instruments appearing that aren't there.
Mother is 1 minute 17 seconds of Diana in Twin Peaksland, complete with tape hiss and the sound of a siren in the distance. My Own is frightening in both it’s Nirvana Unplugged delivery and content. The song builds from a low simmer to a boil and back again, summed up by the first line, "I feel your blood run through my veins. I pray to God we're not the same." "My lead guitar' is more about me screaming than it is about hitting the right notes."
To complete Fantasia Ball, Diana packed up her cassettes and flew them and herself to Nest Recording in Brookly, where J.Z. Barrell provided additional elements of color. Among J.Z.’s contributions are the guitar on If It Feels Good, the solo on Happy, and the guero on Summer. J.Z. also handled all the bass (except for Falling Down), mixing,, re-mixing, and mastering. In between trips to Brooklyn, Diana visited True Tone Studios in Nashville, where David Henry added cello to Fly Away and Ferry, along with bass and organ to Falling Down.
What if they freeze-dried the '60s and nobody came? That's the feeling this album conveys, some lost essence of the Fab decade uncluttered with myth and nostalgia. Fantasia Ball sounds like the teenage Marianne Faithfull's first two albums, if all the Brit studio orchestration were drained away and that little bird was left with only her plaintive voice and a guitar to get by. Diana Darby's second album, recorded at home on 4-track, is just that dry and pretty and endlessly insinuating. She's based in Nashville, where ice tea comes presweetened if you don't ask, but this music isn't—it's spare, minimal, just Darby's softly disquieting vocals and guitar (with subtle, occasional backups from cello, drums, etc.) speaking slim & infinite volumes. "My Own," a dark confessional of family strife, has gathered much attention so far, but I like the forever-changed neo-samba of "Summer," the resigned hedonism of "If It Feels Good" (the squares'll be worried), and Darby's methadone-acted vocal on "Happy" even better. After 10 fine Darby originals, the album ends with a cover of the perfectly-chosen 1965 Rolling Stones tune "Blue Turns to Grey," bringing the Marianne Faithfull soul of Fantasia Ball full circle: Mick Jagger (in his jaunty sailor suit) sang about the easy-rolling blue, but Darby (as Faithfull before her) deflects to the sterner passion of the grey. -Richard Riegel, Creem
There’s a popular misconception that quiet music has to be gentle music, a notion that’s turned on its head on Diana Darby’s Fantasia Ball. Subdued guitars provide most of the instrumentation, a cello adds the requisite atmosphere, and bass and drums lurk somewhere in the background, but it’s Darby’s scraped-dry vocals that hold your attention, murmuring phrases like “Why are all the flowers dying?” or “You taught me how to be afraid” in your ear. Darby has an excellent grasp on how to create a mood that envelops the listener, even as the mood becomes increasingly disturbing, as in “My Own,” an ode to mother that ultimately takes a sinister turn. The final track, a stripped down reworking of the Stones’ “Blue Turns to Grey,” sums up Darby’s aching worldview.Gillian G. Gaar – Rolling Stone
Demonic dreams floating on celestial melodies, the marriage of heaven and hell. Frank Stasio - NPR