New band of the day – No 732: Diane Birch

The debut album by this aspiring soul diva sounds like Laura Nyro and Carole King ... blaring out of two separate stereos

Hometown: New York.

The lineup: Diane Birch (vocals, piano, Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, guitar).

The background: Diane Birch has been around a bit, mainly because her dad was a 7th Day Adventist preacher who took his family wherever he worked, whether they liked it or not. Still, good way to see the world. The 27-year-old singer-songwriter was born in Michigan, spent her childhood in Zimbabwe and Sydney before, aged 10, returning to the States, specifically to Portland, Oregon. When she was old enough, she moved to Los Angeles where she became a "pianist for hire" – Prince heard her playing at the Polo Lounge and invited her back to his for a jam, the saucy old funkster. A jam, eh? Good one, Prince. Anyway, then she came to London to write her debut album, Bible Belt, but by the time it was finished she was living in New York.

She sounds very New York, does Birch, although you can tell she's spent time on the west coast and been courted by Daryl Hall (she recently appeared on his telly show) – her music bears the influence of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Laurel Canyon and south Philly, if you can imagine such a geographical mish-mash. At its best, it sounds like you're hearing Nyro's New York Tendaberry and King's Tapestry blaring out of two separate stereos in two separate rooms. Birch wears her influences on her sleeve – one of the tracks here is called Nothing But a Miracle, an obvious nod to the covers album that Nyro recorded with Labelle, Gonna Take a Miracle, while Fools isn't a million miles away from a King song like Too Late.

But why's it called Bible Belt? Because of her dad's job, and the fact that she wasn't allowed to listen to pop or rock'n'roll when she was a kid – her parents thought it was the devil's music, which it probably is (in fact, isn't that the point?). She responded by becoming one of Satan's disciples, ie a goth – Birch would leave home with no makeup on and then, once out, apply heavy black eyeliner, lipstick and face-whitener, a regular little junior Siouxsie. When she returned her shocked dad would be waiting up for her reading the Bible – it was like something out of Carrie, only without the blood and multiple murders.

Meanwhile, she was only allowed access to opera, classical and church music growing up. Birch swears her songs are hymnal in terms of structure and melody, but really you should more likely expect a heap of blues-lite, soul, gospel, rock and folk from Bible Belt, which was recorded in NYC and New Orleans with Joss Stone's early producers, features Lenny (The Patti Smith Group) Kaye on guitar, and includes an ode to her childhood imaginary friend who apparently resembled Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Whether or not she was conjuring up the young Mozart or the adult one, we have no idea, but the mind fairly boggles. Still, classical ghost-pals aside, fans of British girls with the blues – like Joss, but also Adele, Duffy and Amy – will probably go for this in a big way.

The buzz: "Move over Amy, Adele and Duffy: the British blue-eyed-soul brigade gets some serious competition from this Yankee on her debut!"

The truth: The best tracks will make you do a double-take – Laura, is that really you?

Most likely to: Slay fans of 1970-72 singer-songwriter pop.

Least likely to: Kill anyone.

What to buy: Bible Belt is released by Virgin on 22 March.

File next to: Carole King, Carly Simon, Sarah McLachlan, Laura Nyro.

Links: myspace.com/dianebirch

Tomorrow's new band: Citadels.

Contributor

Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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