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Donna Adler


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Country-flavored, ethereal, contemporary folk

Status:

Most recent release, "Emily's Café" (single, 2014); most recent full-length release, Stories to Keep (2012)

See also:

Donna Adler's site

Donna Adler's site at CD Baby

Comparisons:

Early Sarah McLachlan. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Covers/own material:

Mostly own; occasional covers

General comments:

Donna Adler has an amazing voice and is a talented guitarist and songwriter. She has a very straightforward style a lot of the time, and a very strong, rich, confident, beautiful voice. Perhaps a cross between Karen Carpenter and Iris DeMent.... :-). Every time I see her she gets better and better. Granted she has a weakness for squishy sixties style love/romance français ballads of desire, but heck anyone who can cover Sarah McLachlan's "Vox" with just a guitar and hit all the high notes without any visible effort or strain is *ok* with me. That's right. Right here in the windy apple we have a singer who does early Sarah pretty much the way I'd imagine early Sarah doing early Sarah. Complete with all the riffs on an acoustic guitar. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Recommended first album:

Any

Recordings:


all the riches of the world

Release info:

1997

Availability:

See Donna Adler's site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Donna Adler—vocals, guitar

Guest artists:

Brad Newton—percussion
Dave Gans—bass guitar, lead guitar, synth, guitar
Ken Barnhardt—percussion, bird whistles
Ellis Clark—guitar, lead guitar
Mike McCurdy—acoustic bass
Eric Remshneider—violincello
John Williams—accordion
Russel Clark—acoustic bass guitar
Donny Jacobs—clarinet
Beth Forrester—harmony vocals
Amy Spina—harmony vocals, harmony vocal arrangement
John Spiegel—slide guitar

Produced by:

Brad Newton and Donna Adler

Comments:

This is an album of graceful pop-flavoured folk songs. The instrumentation is fairly simple and acoustic, and Donna Adler has a lovely voice and does some charming self-harmonies. This is sure to be a popular album amongst those looking for something mellow and relaxing but that is not simply background music. There's a wonderful purity of vision and clarity of sound here. (sophiagurley@hotmail.com)

Alta Vista Sky

Release info:

2002

Availability:

See Donna Adler's site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Donna Adler—guitar, vocals, gourd piano

Guest artists:

K. Todd—piano
E. Remschnieder—cello
E. Talbot, M. Thobe, S. Gaede, T. Curless—drums/percussion
T. Stompanato, M. Lindauer, D. Bunn, L. Marini, J. Ross—bass
K. Spilker—accordion
R. Fulks—acoustic guitar and slide
S. Fletcher—violin
T. Murray—fiddle
M. Scott—mandolin
M. Crowley—electric guitar

Produced by:

Donna Adler

Comments:

This is a GREAT album. It just grows and grows on me. It has always amazed me when someone can take simple, straightforward chords and guitar notes, and yet come up with songs that are original and hooky enough to be fresh and new. Nanci Griffith is great at this, as she bridges the country/folk frontier. Donna has achieved this here. Check it out.
     The haunting piano bits on "Bring You Home", the first track of Donna Adler's new CD, Alta Vista Sky, paint an aural landscape that sets a faraway tone. This breezy, colorful track sets the tone for Adler's richly textured sophomore effort. Although it is difficult to categorize these songs, they fit snugly in the singer-songwriter genre, somewhere in between new folk and new country.
     The country-major sound of about half of the album seems at first listen deceivingly simple. On repeated listens, though, each song manages to etch a distinct impression on the aural canvas. A number of the tracks could be classified as songs of yearning—a theme not entirely foreign to country or folk music.
     In "If You Had a Heart", "Are They Blue", and "Old Pomona Road", the protagonist respectively implores "love me only", dreams about a "kiss from a prince" and sighs "one day I will lay it all down and rest my soul". In "My Dog's Eyes", deserted memories of "deep clear water", "tall trees in red chimneys" and happiness "looking into my dogs eyes" are sought to be recaptured. But these traditional angles are elevated both by the clarity, purity and richness of Adler's voice, and by the subtle appropriateness of the arrangements.
     Shades of John Gorka-esque lyricism—simple yet allegorical—are apparent in tracks like "Nadia", a song in which a young girl finds herself when she discovers the violin.
     After a few listens, I was convinced that at least one of the songs ("My Dogs Eyes") was a Tom Waits cover. Or a cover of something that I had heard before. Not the case. Every song on this CD is original. Adler's voice is almost wrenchingly pure. One wonders what the results would be if Adler's formidable talent was shaped by a stylistic producer like Daniel Lanois ("Rain Shine" definitely evokes Lanois). Or if she took a chance with an a cappella Celtic ballad ("The Crow" comes close to a Celtic feel) or an unaccompanied lament.
     In the most general sense, Alta Vista Sky is a step up from Donna's debut, All the Riches of the World, which I liked as well. The orchestration is more rich and more consistent. The guitar is crisp and alive. The harmonies are low-key and not over-powering. This is a much more polished product, and a most welcome and reflective antithesis to the mainstream pop scene of today. Just about any of these songs would be right at home on a collection like Follow that Road. Or on a show like Morning Becomes Eclectic.
     Here's hoping that Donna Adler wins the audience and the critical acclaim that she deserves. If you like sparkling vocals and original music, Alta Vista Sky deserves a place in your CD-changer. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Violets and Blues

Release info:

2007

Availability:

See Donna Adler's site

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of country-folk

Group members:

Donna Adler—vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Jerry Kimbrough—lead guitar (1, 3), rhythm guitar (1, 2, 3), guitar (5, 10), acoustic guitar (7, 11), electric guitar (7)
Andy Leftwich—fiddle (1, 3, 9), mandolin (3, 8)
Dave Lawbaugh—drums (1, 2, 10, 11), tambourine (2), drums and percussion (5)
Craig Nelson—upright bass (1, 3)
Corky Siegel—harmonica (2)
Jimmy Johnson—electric lead guitar (2)
Matthew Burgess—shaker (2), percussion (7, 8)
Mack Jezzro—upright bass (2, 9, 10, 11), dohouse bass (5)
Larry Hall—piano (4), background synthesizer (120
Mike Zikovich—accordion (4, 8)
Muriel Anderson—classical guitar (4)
Jeff Brock—barbership quartet harmonies and harmony arrangment (5)
Michael Johnson—classical guitar (8, 12)
Bryn Davies—upright bass (8)
Wayne Dahl—pedal steel (10)
Donna Frost—harmony vocals (10)
John Cathings—cello (11)
Sam Levine—flute (12)

Produced by:

Donna Adler

Comments:

More country-flavoured than the previous album of hers I've heard, this is a collection of lively Nashville-style country folk. The instrumentation is relatively simple, which complements the beautiful clarity of Adler's gorgeous voice and the songs' emotions. Smooth and pretty music. I highly recommend this to fans of ballads and smooth country/folk pop. (sophiagurley@hotmail.com)

Stories to Keep

Release info:

2012

Availability:

See Donna Adler's site

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Donna Adler—vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Charlie Chadwick—upright bass (1)
Mark Casstevens—acoutic guitar (1)
Andy Leftwich—fiddle (1); mandolin (1, 4, 5, 9, 10); violin (11)
Karry Marx—acoustic guitar & slide guitar (2)
Jack Jezzro—upright bass (2); bass (3); electric bass (6, 8, 12)
Dave Lawbaugh—percussion (2, 6, 8, 13); drums (3, 6, 8, 12, 13); bells (6); shaker (10)
Cody Kilby—lead guitar (3)
Jeff Taylor—penny whistle (4, 7, 15); accordion (5, 6); piano (8)
Carole Rabinowitz—cello (6, 15)
Scat Springs & Vicki Hampton—backing vocals (6)
Larry Hall—piano (7)
Buddy Mondlock—guest vocal & arrangement (9)
Joe Spivey—fiddle (10)
Steve Eisen—saxophone (12)
Michael Johnson—gut-string guitar (13, 15)
Mark Dvorak—acoustic guitar, vocals (14)

Produced by:

Donna Adler; Donna Adler, Charlie Chadwick & John Mills (1); Donna Adler and John Mills (15)

Comments:

The pure-voiced Donna Adler has a good way with songs on this folksy, country-tinged album. Here she covers a few songs by Tom Dundee and Emmylou Harris, and writes her own about Dorian Gray and other intriguing topics. Whatever she sings sounds credible and warm. She's made a wonderful album. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

Donna Adler's latest release is Stories to Keep and it's a keeper. Her voice exudes a purity that persists throughout. And without question, it is her voice that really continues to stand out as her greatest asset. This album is nothing if not simple, understated and elegant in its subtlety.
     My favorite track is "The LampLighter," a hauntingly pared-down folk lyric that moves seamlessly across an emotional reminiscence and longing. It brings to mind Ann Hills' interpretation of Michael Smith songs (e.g. "The Dutchman"). Along with other songs like "If My Life Were a Book," it would be an equally worthy inclusion in a collection like Follow That Road. As I am particularly fond of Nanci Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms; there are country folk tunes on Adler's CD that could easily fit in there as well. Of course, Nanci Griffith's country twanginess marks a stark contrast to Donna's unconstrained tone, and fresh and clean presentation.
     Since my personal taste tends more towards new folk and less towards traditional country, tracks like "Chance of Tears" seem more plain to me. Nevertheless, anyone who is in the market for straightforward tunes in this genre will be pleased with this collection.
     "Dorian Grey" is a more spirited song—I would love to hear Adler let loose a bit more on the vocals, and perhaps rock the arrangement more—one can merely imagine how that would sound. The only other minor mode song is "Bird Upon the Water," another of my favorites on this album. I will admit I am biased towards this mode (it is one of the reasons, I now realize, an artist like Kate Bush is so high on my list of musical faves). I find music in minor just that much more compelling—and that fact alone may be why bonding with some of this album requires from me a greater effort.
     Donna continues her penchant for unadorned songs of yearning in tracks like "Why Do I Believe." Songs like this fit squarely in the country-folk category. The combination of uncluttered acoustic arrangements and Adler's soul-arresting, lucid voice succeed in grabbing one's attention, despite (or maybe in tribute to) their simplicity.
     "He Knew Him by His Cane" reminds me of "Puff the Magic Dragon." The tune is similar, and some of the words are common—the cane is like the faithful dragon. This may seem like an odd comparison, but really Donna does share a lot with sixties folk-pop pioneers like Peter, Paul, & Mary—she evokes a similar ethos—and relies primarily on her voice and the story of the song to pull you in. "My Love Grows" is another good example of this that I really like. She uses these bare elements to great effect.
     I have mentioned in reviews of her earlier work, that I would love to hear Donna's voice and vocal clarity applied to edgier material—but really this is, at the end of the day, a matter of personal preference. My belief is that Donna could easily pull off a Karen Carpenter song, or even an anthem like "Let It Be." I have heard her perform Sarah McLachlan covers successfully. But Adler's self-chosen path has kept her close to the center. "Michaelangelo," in its gentle percussiveness, evokes songs like Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball. If Donna had the chance to work with a producer like Lanois, I would not be surprised if fireworks ensued.
     In the meantime, Stories to Keep is a more than competent addition to Donna's catalog and one that will surely not disappoint. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)


Thanks to Mike Mendelson, Sophia Gurley, and Anna Maria Stjärnell for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2016-05-16 00:08:28.
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