Bio: For Diane Birch, a girl growing up as the youngest child of a traveling preacher, music became a refuge. Although born in Michigan, Birch’s father led the family to ... (more)
Bio: For Diane Birch, a girl growing up as the youngest child of a traveling preacher, music became a refuge. Although born in Michigan, Birch’s father led the family to pulpits in such far-flung places as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia - her childhood an endless array of passport stamps and wide-eyed experiences. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she returned to the U.S, where the family finally settled in Portland, Oregon. Throughout it all, she gravitated towards music. In a household where pop songs were never played, Diane developed an early and impressive talent for classical piano. Learning to play by the Suzuki method – that is, by ear without reading the notes– she was able to lose herself in music and, in doing so, discovered an extraordinary gift. As she grew old enough to seek out records for herself she found an ardent passion for American music, everything from the Delta Blues to Motown, California surf, AM radio classics and many points in between. As a result, Diane Birch may be the only new artist this year who sounds like an old favorite, with all the freshness and allure of a significant breakthrough talent.
Bible Belt is only her first recorded offering, but it’s one of the most accomplished albums you’re likely to hear all year. From the opening track “Fire Escape” to the closing “Magic View,” Diane’s stunning voice – sometimes bursting with buoyant spirit, sometimes plaintive and world-wearied – is rich, soulful and beguiling. Written entirely by Diane and expertly produced by Grammy winners Steve Greenberg, soul legend Betty Wright and Michael Mangini - working together as a team for the first time since the first two critically acclaimed Joss Stone albums - Bible Belt was recorded in New York and New Orleans with an impressive group of accomplished musicians, all of whom were so dazzled by Diane’s songwriting that they agreed to come together as her band for the recording: Lenny Kaye (of The Patti Smith Group), Adam Blackstone from The Roots, George Porter of The Meters, acclaimed drummers Stanton Moore of Galactic and Cindy Blackman, saxophonist Lenny Pickett, and trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone. And while Diane sings most of the album’s background vocals herself, both Betty Wright and legendary Jive Five lead singer Eugene Pitt join in on occasion to lend their vocal magic.
The result is an album that sounds like an instant classic, spanning soul, gospel, blues, and much more. Equally inspired by Laura Nyro and Carole King as she is by Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John, Diane carves her own sound with her exceptional songwriting. Her deft performance on the keys – piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Farfisa - showcases an extraordinary ability, but it is her melodies and lyrics which place her in a league of her own. In tones that seem far older than her years, she grapples with the theologies of her childhood, musing on life, love, sin and the Devil in the same breath as she yearns for an imaginary friend (“Valentino”) or for a little sister to “Rise Up”. The result is nothing short of gorgeous. (less)