Music Review: Diane Birch, “Bible Belt”
Evoking the pure and warm sound of classic singer-songwriter albums, Diane Birch’s “Bible Belt” is dedicated to golden-hued, pre-digital honesty. From the doo-wop cadences and gospel organ that open “Fire Escape,” Birch wraps each song in classicist clothing — the collection might not sound exactly like Carole King’s “Tapestry” or Laura Nyro’s “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession,” but Birch’s earthy approach wedges nicely between them.
“My tears don’t show, but oh honey, they flow,” Birch sings with sass in the gospel-flavored “Valentino,” evoking Nyro’s sweet soul-jazz style. Producers Betty Wright and Steve Greenberg maintain a strict no-artifice policy for the mix: there’s not a single sound on “Bible Belt” that could only be made after, say, 1975. This is particularly evident on the first single, “Nothing But a Miracle,” a mid-tempo soul ballad fueled by Fender Rhodes and horns — subtract Birch’s vibrato-soaked vocals, and it’s an arrangement for a Roberta Flack or Phoebe Snow album.
Thanks to Wright, a Southern soul legend who knows how to craft authentic-sounding retro R&B, “Bible Belt” rarely sounds like pastiche. Birch seems to have genuine understanding of why this music works, which makes her a far better subject than Wright’s most prominent experiment in blue-eyed soul, Joss Stone — “The Soul Sessions” is a classic case of a performer not being up to the task of interpreting amazing material. While Birch is a decade older than Stone was when she recorded that disc, “Bible Belt” suffers slightly when Birch betrays her relative youth — “Don’t Wait Up” is about blowing curfew, of all things — but at 26, there is plenty of time for depth of experience to catch up with Birch’s ageless style.
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