Album Review: Diane Birch’s Speak a Little Louder

speak a little louderThe sophomore album from singer/songwriter Diane Birch was released just last week, and presents an artist who is still defining herself. Her first album, Bible Belt, brought inevitable comparisons to Carole King. This time she downplays her keyboard chops and focuses on songwriting and arranging.

She has mentioned that she incorporates many influences in her music, particularly in this new collection. That much is obvious from even a single listening. Her singing is edgier this time around, making her sound like the second coming of Stevie Nicks. As you would expect, there’s some Fleetwood Mac sounds here as well. Also, keep an ear open for Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, Alanis Morrisette, Heart, the Motels, and even a disco number ala Diana Ross. They’re not fully fledged style copies, but the influence is present.

The version of this album you’ll find in the CD racks at your store is shorter than the full-length version available online by five songs. I’d recommend getting the 16 track version, since some of the best cuts are among those left off of the short version.

The title track is a very moody number with heavy synthesizer beds. Lyrically it’s a little weak, but the hook is memorable. The two tracks that really highlight Diane’s Stevie styles are “Tell Me Tomorrow” and “Love & War”, the former being a solo Stevie style song and the latter one more in the Fleetwood Mac mold. “Pretty in Pain” is the disco number, and works well. If you enjoyed Diane’s earlier work, you’ll want to take note of “Superstars”, which is a solid hypnotic song, and “Truer than Blue”, which is the only track that is just her voice and piano.

Although Diane is too young to remember it first hand, there is additional 70s influence in “Adelaide”, which has the flavor of the supergroups of the late 70s and early 80s like Styx and Supertramp. One particularly odd number is “Staring at You”, which is an angsty love song. Heavy synthesizer and vocal effects give it a Motels feel.

I should also mention the track “Unfkd”. Yes, it’s pronounced just the way you think it would be. The first time I listened to it, I found it a little jarring. It’s mostly a minimalist song that is both hopeful and bitter. Dropping the “F bomb” repeatedly, it may be off-putting to some. It was to me, and I’m hard to offend. However, after listening to it a couple times (once reading the lyrics sheet along with it) it’s beginning to grow on me. It is obviously meant to be a challenging song, and it succeeds in that.

Speak a Little Louder is an album that starts a little weak, but picks up as it goes along. It’s not a happy album; the most positive it gets has a very dark quality to it. The lyric writing is somewhat haphazard; there are some decent tracks but nothing that’s really going to stick with you. What this album really has going for it is the music itself. Diane crafts interesting and memorable melodies, and does things with chord progressions that are, at the very least, non-standard.

Finally, there’s the performance aspect. In a world of pop music with little in the way of vocal inflection, and the use of Autotune to remove what little there is left, Diane is an old school singer/songwriter. She emotes in her singing the way many singers with a less-than-perfect voice is forced to do to be successful. It’s all out there for anyone to hear. Her songs are her life, and every time she approaches a microphone it’s an affirmation of that, even when it’s a little dark.

 

On a scale of 1-10:

Art rating – 8

Entertainment rating – 7