Posts Tagged ‘Bible Belt’

Mesmerizing. Melancholic. Those two words, more than any other, sum up Diane Birch’s new single, “The End,” which asks why a star shines brightest at the end. On Facebook, she noted that it’s in honor of her father, who passed away in January 2013.

Head over to her Bandcamp page to purchase and download it.

In addition to being the pastor of the Church of Birch, Diane is a wondrous singer-songwriter – one of my favorites, in fact. Her 2009 debut album, Bible Belt, was a delight (and my Album of the Year); it sounded like a lost treasure from the 1970s. A year later, her second offering, The Velveteen Age, recast seven classic goth songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s with a pop sheen that was simply hypnotic. Speak a Little Louder, from 2013, was less the Carole King and Laura Nyro of her debut and more Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks, and no less astounding.

Three years later, and the Nous EP glowed liked embers in the dark. As I wrote in my review, “It’s atmospheric, restrained and moody, accented by muted vocals and figurative wisps of smoke swirling from speakers.”

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Diane Birch.

1) “Nothing but a Miracle.” So I read a review of Bible Belt in Rolling Stone about a month before the album’s release. It received, if I remember correctly, three-and-a-half stars, and sounded like something potentially up my alley. So I did what any self-respecting potential fan would do: looked her up on Facebook, and began playing the four songs she’d posted on her page, including this gem. Halfway through, my Diane called in, “Who are you listening to? I love her!” And, thus, the Church of Birch gained its 201st and 202nd parishioners.

2) “Photograph.” The first time we saw her, in July 2009, I didn’t have a smartphone, just a cheap Virgin Mobile cellphone that I kept in my car’s glove compartment for emergencies. But I wanted to – if nothing else – get a picture. So I brought our Canon digital camera with 720p video capability, took a few shots, and then set it on the table and hit play for this song.

3) “Fall in Philadelphia.” Bible Belt garnered lots of press and TV appearances for Diane, but none that was as much fun to watch as her appearance on Live From Daryl’s House. Here, she and Hall sing a Hall & Oates classic…

4) “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” My favorite song from The Velveteen Age. Here, she breaks down why she recorded it and performs it solo.

5) “Dreams/Superstars.” This clip comes from a 2013 StageIt show. I’ve only watched a handful of live-streamed shows – the most recent was Neil Young’s Hometown concert. (They’re always fun, though never as much fun as the real thing.) Since I couldn’t figure out how to capture this stream for posterity’s sake, I held up my…I think it was an iPod Touch, as I’d yet to make the leap to the iPhone. (I still relied on the cheap cellphone that lived in the glove compartment.) So the quality isn’t the best.

And a few bonuses…

“Pretty in Pain.” Five months after that StageIt show, we were lucky enough to see Diane at the World Cafe Live Upstairs promoting Speak a Little Louder. We arrived early to eat, as the venue doubles as a restaurant, and saw (and enjoyed) her soundcheck. She channels her inner-Stevie Nicks in parts of this song.

“Heavy Cross.” I’ve shared this clip before, but no matter. It’s a classic, killer performance.

And here’s “Fools,” another Bible Belt standout, from the same show:

And, finally, “Stand Under My Love.” I’ve shared it before – it’s a stripped-down version of one of the Nous tracks. It’s always worth watching again.

Humans have lived, longed, loved, lost and loved again, forged wars and fought peace, and argued about politics familial, social and cultural, since the dawn of time. Such is the grist of poetry and song, of course, and while many lyrical laments litter the byways of history, forgotten, much has stuck around – thanks to the advent of, first, paper; second, recordings; and, last, the resonance of the works themselves. Whether they come from the pen of Wallace Stevens or piano of Carole King, or the hills of Appalachia, expressions of the heart, soul and psyche have remained constant through the ages. It’s why music, like all art, doesn’t come with an expiration date. We, as a people, live, long, love, lose and love again, and argue amongst ourselves, forever and ever. Amen.

I mentioned in my last post that I sent my niece CDs for her 21st birthday. (A few more than I intended, actually, but the prices on two were obscenely low.) Three harken back to the 1970s and the others hail from the past few years. The lines that lead from those of yore to the present are right there, to be heard.

One thing that I did, and I have no idea if it worked as intended, was to turn Amazon’s free gift cards into short notes about each album. So, for today’s Top 5: Classics, Old & New, here are the picks with my notes (and a bit extra) included.

1) Carole King – “So Far Away” from Tapestry, 1971. King, of course, is one of the all-time greats; and this album is, too. I wrote in the note, “Blue, Rickie Lee’s debut and Tapestry are stone-cold classics that have influenced many, including Diane Birch, FAK & the Staves.“ In retrospect, I should have singled out Tapestry specifically, as it was the top-selling album for 15 weeks in a row during the winter and spring of ’71. Rolling Stone rates it the No. 35 Album of All Time.

2) Joni Mitchell – “River” from Blue, 1971. I wrote: “This is rightfully considered one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time, and has influenced generations of artists. ‘River’ is amazing.” Rolling Stone rates it the No. 30 Album of All Time.

3) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love” from Rickie Lee Jones, 1979. I wrote: “Rickie Lee’s debut was and remains a stunner, building upon the blueprints laid down by Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Patti Smith, among others.” I’d add: Rickie Lee radiates utter coolness on everything she does, which is why she’s the Duchess of Coolsville. (Her most recent album was one of my favorites from last year, too, for what that’s worth.)

4) Diane Birch – “Nothing but a Miracle” from Bible Belt, 2009. I wrote, borrowing an observation from my Diane: “This album, in many ways, is a modern-day Tapestry.” That’s a tad over-the-top, granted, but there’s no denying the charm of this modern-day wonder. I remember reading the review of it in Rolling Stone a month or so before its street date; it sounded like something I’d like, so I looked her up on Facebook, where she’d posted four of the songs from the album. Within a few minutes, Diane called in: “Who is that? I really like her!” We’ve been fans ever since.

5) First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” from Stay Gold, 2014. I wrote: “This was my favorite album of 2014 – FAK are two sisters from Sweden who mine an Americana sound.” Notes, of course, can’t include hyperlinks, so I’ll include one here instead: my Albums of the Year, 2014 post.

6) The Staves – “Make It Holy” from If I Was. 2015. I wrote: “This album is a gem – my favorite from last year.” (Here’s that post.)