Feature: Diana Burgess
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Austin cellist Diana Burgess releases her new album You Run
by Valerie Fischer
As cellists we challenge ourselves to listen deep. We listen to lock in intonation, to capture the right color in our tone, or to convey just the right emotion with our phrasing. In listening to the newest album by Diana Burgess, titled You Run, we are invited to listen more thoroughly to appreciate what we may take for granted - that tactile experience of plucking the string, pulling it with our bow, and feeling the texture of the body of wood as we brush or drum on it.
Expressing that she wanted an album that is "cello-based" and "wood-based", Burgess presents a soundscape that is open and full of fresh air and space. The first thing you notice on this album, which one might characterize as chamber pop, is introspective vocals, rhythmic strumming on fretted instruments, lush strings, and...no drums or bass. "I enjoy things like the sounds of the nails on the fingerboard," she explains, saying that adding any more texture would keep the listener from appreciating what was essential.
At first listening I notice the charming vocal lines and an overall sense of peace and playfulness. Upon listening again I hear the surprising turns in the harmony and well-skilled if straightforward use of the tones that the cello, tenor banjo, and tenor guitar have to offer. The third time I'm absorbing the surprising shadows of hurt in the lyrics and most importantly I am immersed in the both the created textures and the found sounds Burgess provides us. A particularly pleasing example of a track with a found sound is at the end of the "Under Someone's God". Diana explains it was recorded as she was walking at the beach. The mix of sound textures of water, seaweed, and pebbles crunching as she stepped was so enchanting she had to record it. Throughout, we are given the space to appreciate how important every tone color and nuance are to her well thought out pieces.
With six years of development to create this album, Burgess has had lots of time to explore different characters and to make sure her music has every detail she wanted. "It's like birthing a baby. It was time," she says in talking about the timing of this release. With that length of time though she of course had some ups and downs and found that the final push to bringing to life this album was a particularly difficult few months in 2017. Burgess experienced some family tragedies, feeling like she as living in a hospital as she lost three grandparents in a short time and also supported her father as he successfully recovered from triple bypass surgery.
With the suffering around the world from the pandemic fresh on my mind, the song most clearly inspired by Burgess's loss really resonated. "Tilted Lightning" is like holding a vigil and felt very right for the sadness that many of us are feeling. In contrast, many of the earlier songs feel fresh and playful even with lyrics that seem to express the bitterness that can come with young relationships. In particular, the title track "You Run" is a joy and left me humming its melody.
Burgess says the arrangement is as important as the songs and with Burgess playing every instrument, performing her works will prove difficult even when live performance becomes more readily accessible. It's best to purchase this album then and put it on that playlist you go to when you just need to clear your brain of all that is unnecessary and listen deep. But as appreciators of cello, isn't that something we should allow ourselves daily?
What I learned from my conversation with Diana: tenor guitar and tenor banjo are tuned in fifths just like a cello. This is a game changer y'all! We can play a guitar and banjo without having to map out a whole new fingerboard to play chords.
Where you can see Diana Burgess perform: Diana currently performs with partner Curtis McMurtry in livestreams. Look for them on Facebook.
Where to buy Diana Burgess’s album: