Album: Diane Birch, Bible Belt (S-Curve)
Friday 23 April 2010
It would be easy to imagine, listening to Diane Birch's debut album, that she had spent years keenly studying the same R&B influences that guided her blue-eyed-soul peers Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Duffy.
But Birch's route to recognition took a far more circuitous course: the daughter of peripatetic Seventh Day Adventist preacher parents, she was forbidden to watch movies or listen to anything other than classical and religious music as the family evangelised its way through southern Africa and Australia.
Only when they fetched up in Portland, Oregon did she discover pop, and then the reaction was typically teen-extreme: her first heroes were the likes of The Cure and Sisters Of Mercy, with Birch covertly adopting the fully mascara'd appearance of a Goth, complete with black velvet cape.
Thankfully she grew out of that obsession, and during exploratory sojourns in Los Angeles and London, developed the fetching Seventies-flavoured soul stylings that make up Bible Belt, which was recorded in New Orleans and her current hometown New York with a classy retinue of musicians including Meters bassist George Porter and Patti Smith's guitarist Lenny Kaye, and overseen by soul legend Betty Wright, who did a similar job for Joss Stone.
Not that Birch resembles the leather-lunged Stone; her voice, and writing style, is much more nuanced, strongly reminiscent of Laura Nyro, with occasional touches of Maria Muldaur coming through in the falsetto catch that features on songs such as "Valentino", a playful pop-soul number about how she took solace in an imaginary friend to stave off the dispiriting boredom of playing piano in an LA hotel bar.
Though classically-trained, there's a freshness and freedom about her piano style which enables her to tackle with equal aplomb the bluesy piano triplets of "Fire Escape", the New Orleans second-line groove of "Rise Up", the smouldering Southern soul of "Forgiveness" and the Seventies' singer-songwriter flavour of "Ariel", the melody and arrangement of which could have come straight from an Elton John album of that era.
It's entirely possible that "Ariel" is yet another imaginary friend, especially given her eccentric pronunciation; but elsewhere Birch's songs seem more autobiographically sourced.
"Don't Wait Up" is about growing up a Goth with religious parents, and having to go out conservatively dressed before adopting the full Goth slap and schmutter in a nearby rest-room: "Don't wait up for me, 'cos you ain't gonna like what you see"; while the rollicking soul-rocker "Choo Choo" reflects the lingering effect of a particularly manichean form of parental scolding: "Thought I was on my way to heaven/Seems I'm riding the train straight to hell".
But surely only the most bitterly killjoy parents could find much to complain about in an album that demonstrates how well they brought up their talented daughter?
Download this: Fire Escape; Valentino; Fools; Rise Up; Ariel; Forgiveness
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
Dennis Rodman will coach the North Korea basketball team
Arts & Ents blogs
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Coriolanus, theatre review: 'Tom Hiddleston has blazing stellar power'
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
Call the Midwife Christmas special: Behind the scenes with Miranda Hart
Justin Bieber's mishaps and controversies
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >