Call me a child of the 80s, but when I hear the name Diane, the first thing that pops into my mind is Shelly Long’s character on Cheers. She was prim, proper, and prissy, and I never really understood why the super-cool Sam Malone was interested in her. So it’s understandable that my natural bias is against people named Diane. But it only took about 30 second of the first song on Diane Birch’s album Bible Belt to erase those bad memories. With that song Birch became the new Diane of record, and set a new bar for Dianes everywhere.
Diane Birch took an interesting path to a music career. She was born in Michigan, but raised in exotic locals like Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, and an isolated religious community in Portland, Oregon. It’s the last that sparked her creativity, the literal and figurative isolation forcing her to invent friends, concoct stories, and bury herself in music. Fortunately her musical ability was nurtured from a young age. Starting at age 7 she learned piano via the Suzuki method, which is basically akin to learning a language by immersing yourself in it. Through her studies she gained an ability to play song by ear. This made her a musical sponge, absorbing a wide range of music from jazz to rock to classical.
Once she was old enough to move out on her own she headed to LA, hoping to make a career as a film composer. To make ends meet she took piano gigs at hotels and bars. She got to jam with Prince after His Highness saw her play. But it wasn’t until a friend convinced her to take vocal lessons that she made the transition from pianist to singer/songwriter. She started writing songs for her vocal class and posting them on MySpace. The songs caught the attention of a manager in England, and soon she had a recording contract. The result is Bible Belt, a debut album full of mature songs, varied influences, and and all-star backing band (including Tom “Bones” Malone on trombone, a name that should be familiar to any fan of The Blues Brothers).
This is the song that drew me in. The a capella opening, with Birch’s soulful voice and impeccable backing vocals, sounds like something that would have come out of Motown. By the time I got to the organs, strings, and horns I was completely hooked.
“Don’t Wait Up”
Listening to these songs it’s hard to believe Birch didn’t consider herself a singer. Her voice is rich and luscious, and engaging.
“Sweet River Tree”
“What is Love?” (Haddaway cover)