Few songs are more quintessentially Southern than JJ Cale’s “Magnolia,” and few voices more so than Kristin Diable’s. So it makes sense that Diable recorded the song and released it this month. A stand-alone single not destined for her next album, the track is notable for a few reasons: It’s her first release since the rightly acclaimed Create Your Own Mythology album two years ago; and it’s a benefit for the Roots of Music. And it’s the first cover released by Diable, who seldom sings anything but her own material.
Often featured in these pages, the Roots of Music provides music theory and instruction for low-income kids aged 9-14, and gives them real-world experience on performance and touring. The associated band has made a few Jazz Fest appearances and played at OffBeat’s Best of the Beat Awards and for President Obama when he visited town in 2015.
“Their mission statement is ‘We believe that music has the power to transform lives,’ and that statement is a long-held belief in our band as well,” Diable said in an email from the road. “The past year of precarious political and social times left us feeling a sense of frustration and hopelessness. Instead of focusing on the world at large, we decided to focus on where we can be productive and grow the resources and support what we want to see in this world, for those who need it. We wanted to use this new music as a tool to directly support the talented young minds of the place we care so much about, to contribute in a new way to watering those seeds of possibility and growth.”
As for the choice of material, she says “I guess rather than writing a protest song, I felt our most useful act of protest would be to support what we want to see grow in this world.”
“Magnolia” has quite a history: First recorded by Cale in 1971, it was done by Poco on 1973’s Crazy Eyes, then revived twice in 2014—first by Lucinda Williams, then by Eric Clapton and John Mayer on a Cale tribute album. To these ears Diable’s version, done to a soulful electric-piano groove, beats any of those. It can be had through her Bandcamp page or via iTunes.