Archive for the ‘Diane Birch’ Category

The transition to fall means that, weekday mornings, I’m on my way to work when the first glimmers of daylight seemingly push the darkness from the sky. 

“First glimmers” – that, I see now, is what I should have dubbed my “first impressions” posts. But as Diane Birch reminds us in her new single, “Wind Machine,” “Epiphanies knock around like loose change in your pocket.” They don’t mean much if one doesn’t act on them, in other words. The four-minute tune is an autumnal song, aka a slice of melancholic wonder that uses the transitional months between summer and winter as a metaphor for an end:

“November is comin’ on and the nights are getting longer/summer always deceives/little promises like the orange leaves/blowin’ in a wind machine…”

To borrow from what I wrote a few years back about the Church of Birch pastor’s Nous album, “Wind Machine” is – in many ways – Denise Levertov set to song; and if it’s a harbinger of things to come, let’s move the clock hands ahead ourselves so that DB’s new album – which was delayed due to the PledgeMusic collapse – comes out next week instead of next year. 

(The single is available via all the usual suspects, including Apple Music and Spotify.)

(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.)

In late spring of 2009, the U.S. was roiled by a recession that was teetering on a depression due to a succession of ill-advised decisions made by leaders within the business, financial and political spheres. The previous decade had essentially seen segments of the economy built on the funhouse-mirror model and, by design, few indicators reflected reality. Clarity came crashing to the fore in the fall of 2008, however, when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Unemployment soon soared; through June 2009, when Bible Belt was released, some 744,000 jobs were being lost a month. Home foreclosures, which had been on the rise for some time due to ill-advised loans, saw a similar spike.

While there’s more grist to be milled from the meltdown, the main gist I wish to convey is this: Everyday people were being hurt: Two-income households became one; and one-income households became none. Belts were tightened, and the pocket change that once paid for impulse purchases was redirected to bills. Even those not directly impacted by the economic shift changed their spending habits.

Which leads me back to late spring of 2009 – mid-May, to be specific. One evening, after returning home from work, I found myself leafing through the most recent Rolling Stone, which I subscribed to. In those days, the first thing I did upon opening the magazine was to flip through the review section. One title that caught my eye: Bible Belt, which received three-and-a-half stars. The short review was fairly upbeat, referenced Elton John and the song “Ariel,” and made Diane Birch sound like someone whose music I should check out.

The problem: It was May, and the album wasn’t due until June. There were no sound samples on Amazon. There were no videos on YouTube. But she had a Facebook page, and on said page I found not one, not two, but four complete songs for folks like me to stream. I clicked on the first…

…and was instantly transported. The weight of the day – and, in those days, it was a heavy weight – dissipated, and I knew in that instant that her music would be a part of my life for the rest of my days. I clicked “like” on the page – the 201st person to do so – and then started the next song. “Who is that?” my Diane called in.

I should explain: In those days, my computer was in our apartment’s second bedroom, just off a short hall leading from the dining area to the master bedroom. “Second bedroom” is being a tad generous, however: Due to our packrat ways, by then – 19 years of living in the same space – it had become a glorified walk-in closet, filled with my computer desk and chair, sofa, another desk, three stuffed bookshelves and a half-dozen book-filled milk crates, a dresser, and hundreds upon hundreds (upon hundreds) of CDs scattered about, plus stacks of magazines and…did I mention books? Diane’s desk and computer were down the hall, just off the dining area. She heard what I played; and I heard what she played. 

So: “Who is that?” my Diane called in. “I love it!”

I explained how to find the songs on Facebook and, within minutes, she was Diane’s 202nd Facebook follower. I pre-ordered the CD and, once it came into our household, little else was played for the rest of the year. I should mention, we were both well into middle age by then – a time when most folks stop seeking out new sounds. That we found new music as magical as Bible Belt? It was nothing but a miracle…

As I wrote in this Top 5, the album sounds like a lost treasure from the 1970s. Think Carole King, Carly Simon and Laura Nyro, among others, as well as Elton John and Paul McCartney – the melodies are effortless and natural, in other words. At the same time, however, the songs are imbued with a gritty undertow and gospel flourishes, with her vocals coming straight from the church…the Church of Birch, to be specific. 

The cratering economy coupled with the myopic music industry, which had been sputtering all decade in response to the digital revolution, assured that she wouldn’t find the success she should have.

Artistic greatness doesn’t always equate with sales, of course, and “greatness” is an awfully big term to toss around. Yet when she played Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live Upstairs on July 19th of that year, said greatness was etched in stone – it was as sublime and sweet a show that we’ve witnessed, one that I still recall with wonder.

Here she is performing “Photograph,” as captured by our Canon digital camera, that very night:

In fact, the only downside to the concert was her failure to play one of my 13 favorite songs from Bible Belt, “Mirror Mirror.”

(That said, her mash-up of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and the Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling” was way cool. I wish I’d recorded it – and the entire show – instead of the song-and-a-half that I captured.)

To wrap up: To my ears, Bible Belt sounds as fresh and new today as it did in 2009, and Diane’s vocals throughout are a marvel. In my life, it’s more than an “essential” listen. It’s a must.

The track listing:

PledgeMusic, which began operations in 2009, has gone belly-up.

For those unaware, it was a crowdfunding website that connected indie music artists with fans who provided backing for specific projects. It was a win-win for everyone. The artists weren’t left footing the upfront costs for their projects (no mortgaging the house!) and, if they were smart, priced in a profit for themselves. Fans, for their part, scored new music plus, if they chose, nifty premiums – everything from autographed items to pay-to-order cover songs to house concerts to a chunk of an artist’s hair. They also gained access to an online diary that chronicled the project via posts and audio/video uploads.

The PledgeMusic model had artists receiving 85 percent of their raised funds through two payments over the life of a given project, with the company deducting its portion – 15 percent – from the second. There’s also this: The site’s terms and conditions says that “Monies collected by PledgeMusic for a Campaign will be held on account for the Artist.” That infers, at least to me, that the money raised by each artist was segregated from the company’s operating funds, and perhaps that was the case at first. Over time, however, it appears that Pledge dipped into the 85 percent supposedly earmarked for the artists, though why we don’t know. What we can say for certain: Payments to artists were delayed. And delayed again. And, finally, stopped altogether. 

PledgeMusic is now expected to enter bankruptcy, perhaps as soon as this week. The money sent in by fans to support specific artists will likely go to the company’s creditors, whoever they may be, and not the artists themselves. I’ll leave it to others to expound on and investigate the whys and wherefores of the company’s stumbles, and instead state the obvious: There’s no coming back from it.

And while Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding sites remain, PledgeMusic’s absence will be felt – at least for me. I found it, by far, the most user-friendly. It’s always where I began my searches for new or established artists to support.  

The first PledgeMusic project I backed was in 2011, when I signed on for the Juliana Hatfield album that became There’s Always Another Girl. In the years since, in addition to signing on for Juliana’s additional Pledge projects (and the Blake Babies), I backed a variety of other artists, including (but not limited to) 10,000 Maniacs, Josh Rouse, Garland Jeffreys, Rickie Lee Jones and, most recently, Church of Birch pastor Diane Birch, whose plate-passing campaign came in 14 percent above her goal just as PledgeMusic began suspending payments to artists.

So, for today’s Top 5: RIP PledgeMusic (aka Songs from PledgeMusic Albums I Helped Fund).

1) Juliana Hatfield – “Taxicab.” This driving tune – which is made for listening to while speeding down the highway – hails from Juliana’s under-rated There’s Always Another Girl album, which began life as “Juliana Hatfield New Album” on PledgeMusic in 2011.  

2) Garland Jeffreys – “Is This the Real World?” Garland’s 2013 Truth Serum album was highlighted by quite a few songs, but this one is – hands down – my favorite. One listen and, trust me, you’ll be hooked.

3) Rickie Lee Jones – “Feet on the Ground.” That artists such as Juliana, Garland and Rickie Lee had to turn to PledgeMusic says all one need know about the state of the music industry circa the 2010s. This song is one of the highlights from her 2015 Other Side of Desire album.

4) The Stone Foundation – “Next Time Around.” The British soul/R&B band’s Everybody, Anyone album was one of my favorites from last year. Absolutely addictive. And this tune is a stone-cold classic.

5) Diane Birch – “Stand Under My Love.” Diane’s 2018 PledgeMusic project reached its goal, only to have the money swiped from her collection plate. So I’m reaching back to this insta-classic tune from her 2016 EP, Nous. In another era, it would have been a huge hit.

(If you like it, head over to Diane’s BandCamp page and buy the EP.) 

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!