wears the trousers magazine

diane birch: bible belt (2009)
August 5, 2009, 9:11 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Diane Birch
Bible Belt •••½

The fact that Diane Birch’s debut album conjures the sprit of 1960s/70s soul and singer-songwriter pop – LaBelle-era Laura Nyro, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Dusty Springfield, even Elton John – might not make the record seem like the most attractive prospect to potential listeners. After all, another album in thrall to all things retro would seem to be just about the last thing the world needs right now. But, with Bible Belt, Birch – a Michigan-born preacher’s daughter who spent her childhood in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia – delivers a likeable, well-crafted and surprisingly fresh-sounding record that’s strong enough to overcome most of one’s reservations.

Recorded in New York and New Orleans, the album was produced by Steve Greenberg, Betty Wright and Mike Mangini, the svengalis behind Joss Stone’s first albums. Again, don’t let that put you off. There’s a natural, unforced quality to Birch’s performances here that puts the majority of current British Yank-fakers to shame. The singer’s spry piano-playing grounds most of the album’s 13 tracks and she’s accompanied throughout by a thoroughly stellar line-up of musicians, including guitarist Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group), bassists Adam Blackstone (The Roots) and George Porter Jr. (The Meters, Tori Amos), drummers Stanton Moore (Galactic) and Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz), saxophonist Lenny Pickett, and trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone, along with veteran singer Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five.

Highlights of the consistently engaging set include the easy-going swing of opener ‘Fire Escape’ and the truly delightful ‘Valentino’, an infectious dose of happiness if ever there was one. There’s rich drama to the lovely, rueful ‘Rewind’, while ‘Fools’ and ‘Don’t Wait Up’ have appealing, funky sass. Doors-esque organ work anchors ‘Choo Choo’, and the slow-burning ‘Photograph’ builds to a gorgeous gospel coda. ‘Mirror Mirror’ and the gentle closer ‘Magic View’ are sweetness itself.

Thematically, Birch’s songs could use a little more variety: the relentlessly lovelorn lyrics sometimes wear a little thin. In addition, there’s a sense of affirmation and uplift to even her most melancholy songs that’s appealing but that also makes the album feel a bit lightweight overall. On this evidence, certainly, Birch’s work lacks the bite of the music of that other piano-playing preacher’s daughter. But, against the odds, Bible Belt remains a pleasing, enjoyable album that marks Birch out as an artist to watch.

Alex Ramon
UK release date: 02/06/09; www.myspace.com/dianebirch


FREE MP3: Diane Birch, ‘Fire Escape’

‘Nothing But A Miracle’ [live]

‘Introducing Diane Birch’ EPK


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