Diane Birch wrote a fair bit of Bible Belt (great name) in London, but it earned its release in America in 2009, a whole year before it's British release. This is perhaps because gospel-inspired soul is more popular in the US than here. But if you're willing to look beyond the genre, this album is well worth getting hold of.
Birch's father travelled the world as a preacher, and she apparently had limited access to popular music until she was a teenager, but learned the piano from the age of seven. She is a mean pianist, playing acoustic and Rhodes electric pianos. Her singing is individual and confident, with a wide rich register. The band is laid-back and supportive, with an average age rather higher than Birch's youthful 27. Lenny Kaye is one of the guitarists, and there's a small orchestra on a couple of tracks too.
Some of the tracks sound a little middle-of-the-roady, but they all have something to make them special. The first half of Photograph, for example, is a rather staid waltz-time track, but then it bursts into a spectacular Hey-Jude-style jam with a gospel chorus, strings and a horn section. The muted trumpet on the hook to the track Rewind is another masterstroke - simple, but effective, and the lyric is powerful too. Birch's lyrics have mainly secular themes, but draw heavily on gospel styles. Birch performed Valentino on Later... with Jools Holland on BBC TV, which is a reasonable endorsement in itself.
Diane Birch has a compelling voice, songs that are catchy and while still fitting into a gospel/soul/bluesy genre, still have enough originality to keep me pressing replay.