Anyone who fails to be moved by these tales of dislocated lives, families broken up by border guards and uncaring governments, children lying on concrete floors in detention centres, is devoid of human emotion, or is Priti Patel. Apologies if that is tautological.
These are songs, that in a better and more compassionate world, need not have been written. They are 21st-century dust bowl ballads, substituting the dispossessed farmers and victims of the great depression for the asylum seekers and refugees, on the Mexican/US border, or any border for that matter. This could have been an angry album, full of rage and indignation at the extreme cruelty of man upon man. Instead, Diana Jones has chosen to write compassionate portraits of lives caught in limbo, people struggling to escape persecution, famine, and in some cases death. The sense of injustice is enhanced by this approach and perversely amplified by the scarce instrumentation.
Jones’s writing is never sentimental, It doesn’t need to be. These are little documented scenes, snapshots of misery and despair on the border. There is no necessity to embellish when such raw human emotion is on display for the world to see. Jones simply documents these images, and that is the strength of her writing. The despair and the despondency of the refugees are clear for all to see, and hear in this song cycle.
One of the centre pieces of the album is ‘We Believe You’. After visiting a U.S. border detention centre, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke to the women confined there about their reasons why they left home to seek asylum, and about the dismal conditions in the detention camps. “I believed the women” became her mantra during her testimony in Washington. That belief and acknowledgment of the hurts is the backbone of the song. Jones is backed by no less figures than Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, and Peggy Seeger, that grand old dame of so many struggles for Social Justice.
I believe your eyes are tired of crying and all the reasons you said you came here for. I believe you lost your mother and your father, and there ain’t no sleeping on a concrete floor. I believe the gang said they would kill you. I believe they killed your child and your wife. In the end, there was no one left to save you. I believe you were running for your life.
‘I Wait For You’ tells the story of a Sudanese woman seeking asylum in the UK praying that her children might be able to follow. ‘Where We Are’ documents a detention centre where children have numbers pinned to their sleeves to keep track of them, having been traumatically separated from their parents. Chapters in the lives of the dispossessed fill the songs, and the album is a testament to Jones’s exceptional writing ability, and to paint heartbreaking cinematic pictures of human despair.
My brother is a baby he doesn’t understand at all. Freedom, there is freedom outside the chain-link wall. The big guard pulled him off me and he threw him to the floor. There’s no crying, there’s no hugging. Then he slammed the chain-link door. This is where we are.
This is an exceptional record, beautifully written and performed by an artist now being mentioned in the same league as Gillian Welch, Iris DeMent, and Alison Krauss.
As Jones, herself explains:
I needed to make sense of what was happening for myself. I longed to ‘re-humanize’ the people who were being dehumanized around the world.
This is a quietly emotionally, poetic, piece of work from Diana Jones, that tells the stories of bruised and battered people, and lives lost. It is deserving of your attention. In a more compassionate, humane world, it would never need to exist.