I rarely discuss matters of faith, but – when or if pressed – will confess to membership in the cross-denominational Church of Birch, whose charismatic prelate turns on the light of love and salvation in her melodic testimonies.

I’m speaking of singer-songwriter Diane Birch, of course.

Yesterday, she unveiled a PledgeMusic project. One could say she’s passing the donation plate to fund her next album, and promising a plethora of cool premiums in return. I pledged last night, though not for the premium I most desire – a cover song of my choice. That clocks in at a reasonable $400; if not for our impending move, and the upfront costs that will entail, I’d have clicked on it without a second thought. (Instead, I’m settling on the dream journal and USB thumb drive of demos.)

The Pastor Birch has a knack for turning the songs of others into her own. The first time we saw her live, in July 2009, she turned a fun rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” into a way-cool moment by linking it with the Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” The second time we saw her, in 2010, it was a Hall & Oates song – “Rich Girl,” I believe. And in-between those two shows, on French TV, she turned in a mesmerizing spin of Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” that spliced in a little Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs I’d Pay Diane Birch to Cover (If I Had the Cash)… 

1) Carole King/Gerry Goffin – “Up on the Roof.” My first choice. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written…and Diane would send it into the stratosphere. Here’s Dusty Springfield’s take on it…

2) Laura Nyro – “The Sweet Sky.” My Diane’s first choice would be this deep cut from Laura Nyro’s 1978 Nested album.  (That’s Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on electric piano, by the way.)

3) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” From Weller’s recent five-star album, True Meanings, this song is perfect fit for DB. I think she’d do wonders with it.

4) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” DB would slay this stirring stream-of-consciousness song. It’s perfect for her.

5) Sandy Denny – “I’m a Dreamer.” Recorded for Sandy’s final studio album, Rendezvous, in 1977. Here’s an alternate take from the Notes and Words box set. (It’d go doubly well with DB’s own “Stand Under My Love.”)

And two bonuses…

6) Karla Bonoff – “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt for her 1976 Hasten Down the Wind album. 

7) Style Council – “Shout to the Top.” I realized, looking at the first six picks, that I’d leaned hard on mid-tempo tunes. Here’s a remedy…and what a remedy!

Seatbelts were fastened. Smoking materials were extinguished. And, after taxiing to the runway while being serenaded by Field Report (aka singer-songwriter Christopher Porterfield), the jet known as Jade Bird rocketed into the sky for a rollicking performance that featured songs from her 2017 Something American E.P., a few recent singles, new material, and two choice covers. The crowd, it’s safe to say, was wowed.

The snappy set was as compact and concise as the songs, with nary a note out of place. Introductory patter was kept to a minimum. It was as if she, guitarist Will Rees, bassist Jesske Hume and drummer Matt Johnson were a twang-infused Ramones for the night. (Not that I’ve seen the Ramones.)

The inclusion of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” especially for an old Bangles fan like me, was just plain great. The audience enjoyed it, as well, and even joined in on some of the “oh whey oh” lines.

About the only negative: the set’s brevity, which clocked in at just under an hour. Elsewhere on this tour, she’s included a stirring rendition of Kate Bush’s “Running Up the Hill”; it would have been nice if she’d played it, too.

Afterwards, we talked with a few other veteran music fans who, like us, were besotted by Jade’s talent. She reminded one of a young Carlene Carter. She reminds me, however, of a young Kasey Chambers – think “Freight Train” and “Barricades & Brickwalls.” While she doesn’t possess the same quirky humor or pathos as Kasey, she does possess a similar knack for crafting killer tunes.

The set (as best as I remember it):

  1. What Am I Here For
  2. Cathedral
  3. Good at It
  4. Good Woman
  5. Side Effects
  6. Ruins
  7. Does Anybody Know
  8. If I Die
  9. Furious
  10. Uh Huh
  11. Hold That Thought
  12. Walk Like an Egyptian
  13. Love Has All Been Done Before
  14. Lottery
  15. Going, Gone
  16. **Something American
  17. **I’ve Been Everywhere  

 

By 2007, our music collection was in disarray. We had three CD towers that each fit 400 discs, a sprawling mass of smaller CD racks behind and beside them, plus stacks and stacks, and stacks, of jewel boxes. They took up the entire front end of our old apartment, plus plenty of space in the “den” (which was basically a cramped walk-in closet), where additional racks and stacks could be found. Oh, and did I mention that each of the towers had snapped at the base? Or that, while certain – usually newer – CDs were within reach, finding specific titles often turned into an hours-long chore? You’d sort through one pile, then another, and then another, and hopefully find what you wanted by day’s end. It was a headache and a half.

That’s why, that January, I invested in an expensive ($199) 500-gig Western Digital external HD, encoded every track as a 256 or 320 kbps MP3 – about 2500 discs at the time – and then boxed everything up. In a sense, I created our own private Spotify. In the years that followed, we continued to purchase and rip CDs, but – like many others – also we began buying downloads via iTunes, Amazon Music, Bandcamp and HDTracks, and then subscribed to Apple Music. When a CD, I rip before listening, as I listen to encoded files via my MacBook, iPhone or Pono Player – either via my THX-branded Logitech computer speakers or my Bluetooth-equipped stereo system. 

I also re-ripped many of the same discs, this time as FLAC files, three years back, though they’re housed in a separate library. 

But now that we’re preparing to move – and, at least for a time, downsize to an apartment – the question is: Do we want to ship 20+ boxes of CDs across the country just to put them in storage for the next six or 12 months? Especially since we don’t actually listen to them? And what of our hundreds of LPs, some of which date back decades? Do we get rid of them, too?

No. And yes. Over the past few weeks, we’ve combed through everything, removing must-haves (special editions, autographed CDs, select favorites, and some where one or both of us are thanked in the credits), and stacked the boxes in the living room. We will part with them. Most LPs, though none that I’ve acquired in the last few years, will be sold, too. The only question is how much we’ll make from one of our life’s main pursuits. (I already know the answer: Not much.)

The reason that our CD collection continued, and continues, to grow: We buy new releases from old favorites, of course, but also releases from new and relatively new artists. We’re out of the mainstream in that regard. A recent survey by Deezer shows that most folks experience what’s dubbed as “musical paralysis” by 30 years of age. They stop seeking out new sounds and artists, and instead listen to the same-old, same-old, over and over, and over, again. The demands of life, work and raising kids, and competition from TV and video games, has made the music-discovery process too much of a time-sucking chore.

What’s a chore to one, of course, is pure joy to another. I can’t imagine not digging through the digital bins of Apple Music and YouTube, or flipping through the pages of Mojo and Uncut, in search of something new.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Our Own Private Spotify (aka New Music, Vol. LXXIII).

1) Paul Weller – “Gravity.” Weller’s recent True Meanings album is one of the year’s best, and in weeks to come – if I can carve out the time – I hope to review it. For now, here’s the video for “Gravity,” which he released this week.

2) American Aquarium – “The World Is on Fire.” Echoes of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle can be heard in the North Carolina band’s stellar work. This performance is from a recent appearance on Last Call With Carson Daly.

3) Jill Sobule – “Nostalgia Kills.” The singer-songwriter has released new album, her first in four years. And, as the title track indicates, it’s a stellar set. (“We have to keep moving or die…”) 

4) Stonefield – “In the Eve.” I know next-to-nothing about this Aussie band, which was featured in Paste Music’s “Daytrotter” sessions this week, other than they’re four sisters, they’re a tad retro, and very cool. I look forward to digging into their oeuvre in the weeks ahead.

5) Mary Lou Lord – “Lights Are Changing.” The Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter’s 1998 album Got No Shadows was issued on vinyl for the first time this week, and if we weren’t busy boxing things up I’d have already ordered it. This cover of the Bevis Frond tune is one of many highlights of the album, which features support from such luminaries as Shawn Colvin, Roger McGuinn, the Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, and Elliott Smith. McGuinn performs on this song, in fact. (Of note, Mary Lou also covered it on her self-titled 1995 EP. The main difference: Juliana Hatfield sings back-up on that version.)

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Immense. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of “Rockferry,” the title track of – and lead single from – Duffy’s stellar 2008 debut album. Co-written with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, the song is laden with echoes of the ages. Way back at the end of 2008, in a Facebook post (now available here), I noted that it “has an utterly timeless feel, conjuring the likes of Procol Harum, Lulu and Petula Clark.” I should have added Dusty Springfield, too.

Although the single didn’t do well in the charts, peaking at No. 45 in the U.K., it’s the song that drew me to the album. In those days, I sat in a cubicle composing TV descriptions that the whole world – or, at least, TV Guide subscribers – read. An episode of the Brit TV show Later…With Jools Holland that she appeared on was slated to air in the U.S. in the spring of ‘08, and the single moniker led me to verify that, indeed, she was a she and, too, a single-name singer. I also learned that her full name is Aimée Duffy, and that she hails from Wales (which seems to produce more musicians per capita than just about any other country). Anyway, I remember plugging in my headphones to my work computer, pulling up YouTube, and watching the video for “Rockferry” – and being transfixed. It’s a magical song.

I ordered the CD that night, and played it to death over the next few months. And when she released a “deluxe edition” that included six additional songs later that year, I purchased that, too.

Another highlight: “Mercy,” the second single, which broke big. It topped the charts in 13 countries and made her a household name in the United Kingdom.

“Warwick Avenue,” another wondrous track, was the third single. It reached No. 3 on the U.K. charts.

“Syrup & Honey” is another tasty number. Here’s a clip of the songstress singing it in the studio…

My favorites, however, are the title song, which kicks off the 10-track set, and the closing number, the yearning “Distant Dreamer.”

The deluxe version is well worth seeking out, I should mention. It includes the hit single “Rain on Your Parade,” which was in contention to become the theme song for the Jame Bond flick Quantum of Solace. (It lost out to “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys.)

Other “deluxe” gems include “Oh Boy”…

…and “Enough Love,” which – like “Rockferry” – echoes long-ago days while sounding utterly modern. (At least, it does to my ears.)

There’s much to be said of the trajectory of Duffy’s career in the years since, but that’s grist for another post. The reality is that, even if she never records again, she’s gifted the world with a “bag of songs” that resonates still, a decade later.

Here’s her seven-song set from Glastonbury ’08…

… and here’s the track list of Rockferry, the album, in its deluxe form: