I first heard the name Diane Birch on Tuesday morning, when the video for her single "Nothing but a Miracle" came on VH1 as I was getting dressed for work. I often do this in the mornings, when VH1 and MTV actually play music, and VH1 typically has the better selection of artists (that's where I heard Corinne Baily Rae and Iron & Wine for the first time as well, among many others). I didn't recognize the name, obviously, and heard the sounds of what I thought was gonna be some new white girl trying to be an R&B singer, but at least with a cool voice (inviting, but with a bit of edge to it). Then the chorus kicked in and I realized I was listening to a very special Gospel/Soul/Pop kind of artist. Very subtle, yet impressive, piano work. Killer backing vocals (which I would later find out were all provided by her), and a melody and rhythm that I immediately couldn't get out of my head. So I decided to do what I always do when I find a new artist, I check their Wikipedia page to find out about them, and their music. Imagine my surprise when there was no Wikipedia page for Diane Birch. So I went to iTunes and looked her up, to make sure I got the name right, and found out that her album came out months ago, and I was just hearing about her now.
So although I didn't have the time to wait for it before I had to leave for work, I immediately downloaded her album. When I got home, I turned it on and was blown away by this gorgeous voice and these surprisingly strong songs. I found out that the same production team was behind Joss Stone's first two albums, but I knew that Stone isn't a musician or much of a songwriter, so I wanted to figure out whether Diane Birch was just a singer, or a more complete artist. Although you see her play a bit of piano in the video, you never know. Seeing that the iTunes download came with a digital booklet (an electronic version of the CD insert), I looked at it and saw "Music and Lyrics by Diane Birch", which made me very happy. So shortly, I began a Google search to learn as much about her as possible.
Although born in Michigan, she moved all over the world with her South African born parents. Her dad was a pastor who moved the family all over the world until finally settling back in the States while Diane was a teenager. She had started playing piano when she was 7, intuitively using her ear to mimic any sort of melody she heard. She heard essentially no popular American music until returning as a teen, so she taught herself by using classical music, as well as church hymns and the like. She was eventually introduced to the past 75 or so years of American music by her friends, and she soaked it all up. She didn't start singing until much later, only after the urging of her friends. Out popped her incredibly warm and powerful voice, and it didn't take long before she attracted a lot of notice. At one point even intriguing a certain audience member enough that he asked her to come over to his house and jam with his band. The audience member was Prince. Naturally, Birch went and jammed with him (as many of us musicians have dreamed of doing).
Listening to her album, which she called Bible Belt, somewhat in tribute to her dad, it's amazing that a young singer would come onto the scene with such a richly developed sound. I can listen to the whole album, front to back, and not really have any big complaints. A couple of the songs are a minute or two too long, but that's true of most albums. I especially like rhythmically upbeat "Valentino", the melancholy closer "Magic View", and the opener "Fire Escape", which she's said is the take that they recorded just so she could teach the band the song, since they'd never played it before. It was so good, they just put that take on the album. The whole album is timeless in a way that you rarely see. It sounds old, but not really like anybody you've heard. Her delivery of the material feels new, her voice is warm and inviting, and the material itself is so strong that I think it has a very wide ranging appeal. Birch is definitely an artist I'm going to be looking out for, and now I'll have this entry to prove that I was listening to her before she even had a damn Wikipedia page.
Here's a link to the song that made me sit up and take notice of her, "Nothing but a Miracle" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBU-FGzuP-w&feature=fvst