Diane Birch is an up-and-coming, gospel-tinged, rhythm and blues loving rocker with a very soulful voice, some cool piano chops, and the ability to write meaningful songs without straying outside of the mainstream. Her recent concert at WXPN's Xponential Music Festival paved the way for my purchase of her debut CD, Bible Belt, released last year.
First, some biographical information is necessary. Birch's parents were Seventh Day Adventist missionaries who only allowed classical and sacred music in their home. Her father preached around the world in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Australia before returning home and settling in Portland, Oregon when she was ten years old. Birch began taking piano lessons at age seven and when she was old enough she moved to Los Angeles where Prince heard her perform. She quickly accepted his invitation to jam with him. After her future manager heard the singer's work on her MySpace page the keyboardist moved to London to write most of the words and music for Bible Belt. Currently Birch lives in New York City after signing her record deal.
According to Birch's website Bible Belt is so named because of the huge affect religion has had on her life and music. None of the thirteen songs are sacred works but there are constant religious references and metaphors throughout the disc accompanied by gospel style lead and group vocals that are heavily interwoven into the arrangements.
Birch's very literate and personal lyrics make her a genuine singer-songwriter. The upbeat "Valentino" is about an imaginary friend of her youth, a character based on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, someone she created to cope with her solitary, restricted home life. "Don't Wait Up" is about the rebellious "goth" period of her teenage years. "Rise Up" wholeheartedly challenges her parents beliefs: "My mama tells me I won't get through the pearly gates, 'Cause I ain't sorry for my sins and all my mistakes. Mama I don't know if I'm goin' up or down, but I know heaven's gonna be one lonely town." "Fire Escape" and "Ariel" are genuine love songs. "Magic View" was inspired by her move to The Big Apple.
The CD features Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith's band, Adam Blackstone of The Roots, and Cindy Blackman who has played with Lenny Kravitz. Steve Greenberg, formerly the head of Columbia Records, who currently runs Birch's label, S Curve Records, produced the disc with help from drummer Mike Mangini and soul singer Betty Wright who is best known for her 1971 million selling single, "Clean Up Woman."
If you get a chance to see Diane Birch live please do not pass it up. Her strong performance was even more vibrant and dynamic than her recorded material which you can sample right now by listening to the wonderful "Valentino." Better still is this live version of "Don't Wait Up" with Daryl Hall and the late T-Bone Wolk filmed for Hall's online music show, Live from Daryl's House.