Steve Greenberg on Producing Diane Birch’s Bible Belt Album
Lots of people dream of writing the Great American Novel. When I first heard demos of Diane Birch’s songs, I realized she had the potential to record the Great American Album—and I signed her immediately. There was something simultaneously intimate and epic about Diane’s songs; something completely fresh and contemporary, yet utterly timeless. These songs mined so many of the richest veins of America’s popular musical heritage: from New Orleans R&B to Brooklyn doowop; from the Brill Building to 70’s Southern California singer-songwriters; from southern gospel to Philly soul; from the Velvet Underground to the Carpenters.
And so we set out to construct an album that would be worthy of such ambitious architecture, that would bring these songs to life in the manner they so richly deserved. Diane, co-producer Mike Mangini and I headed down to New Orleans and did some sessions with the great George Porter Jr. of the Meters on bass and the mind-blowing Stanton Moore on drums and percussion. That clanky rhythmic sound you hear on “Valentino”? That’s Stanton banging his drumsticks against a metal police barrier we dragged in from Piety Street. Back in New York, we enlisted the Patti Smith Group’s legendary guitarist Lenny Kaye, whose playing skills are rivaled only by his encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop, and bassist Adam Blackstone of the Roots, who brought on the funk. Miami soul queen Betty Wright was enlisted to produce Diane’s vocals, reuniting Mike, Betty and I as producers on our first album together since the first two Joss Stone albums.
Having laid down the foundation, we added glorious touches, such as the great tenor background vocals of Eugene Pitt, of the long-ago doowop group the Jive Five, and falsetto master Michael Longoria, who played the Frankie Valli role in Jersey Boys. We recorded a string quartet led by former Klezmatics violinist Alicia Svigals; and for horns, we brought in our old friend Tom “Bones” Malone, who showed up with Lenny Pickett and several other great players, alternately channeling the grit of southern soul and the sophistication of Bacharach-esque pop. For good measure, we even threw in a 30-piece orchestra on a couple of songs. And—why not?—a gospel choir.
But at the heart of it all were Diane’s brilliant songs, her incredible lead and background vocals and her virtuouso keyboard skills. She played everything from piano to Rhodes to Farfisa, and even played guitar on a song called “Forgiveness.” Among such esteemed company as her storied sidemen, it’s Diane who commands your attention for every moment of “Bible Belt”—an album title that reflects the intellectual struggles and theological evolution experienced by this daughter of a traveling preacher.
The “Bible Belt” album to me also functions on another level: As a love letter to the very idea of the record album itself—a form that has become, in recent years, an endangered species. And yet, that’s how Bible Belt is intended to be heard: Straight through, as an album with a beginning, middle and end. We hope that’s how we hope you’ll listen to it.
Regarding the Discover & Donate campaign, we put this together for several reasons. We wanted to offer something special to the people who committed to discover Diane’s music early on. But rather than doing something typical, we thought it would be nice to make a widget to help people easily spread the word about Diane’s music via their blogs or social network pages and have an added incentive to give a little something back. That’s why for anyone who makes purchase through the Discover & Donate widget, we’ll donate $1 to that charity.
Diane spent part of her life growing up in Zimbabwe and was drawn to support SOS Children’s charity. With so many issues in our world today, we thought that adding other additional charity involvement would allow those who want to spread the word, be able to promote a cause they also feel strongly about, too. We know that it’s just a small sampling of all the many great causes but hopefully, there’s something relatable to most people in the charitable choices.
Just $6.99 for 13 spectacular songs, and an opportunity to help a good cause while you’re at it. I’d call that a win-win.
Steve Greenberg is Founder and CEO of NY-based S-Curve Records as well as Chairman of social media platform Nabbr. Having held many posts throughout his music career, including President of Columbia Records, Steve’s achievements include producing Joss Stone’s first two platinum albums, discovering teen sensation Hanson and wing a Grammy Award in 2001 for “Best Dance Recording” for the mega-hit “Who Let The Dogs Out”
Steve is currently promoting his latest musical talent, soul-stirring songstress Diane Birch whose debut album Bible Belt he produced.
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