She tosses back her leonine mane, and there it is: The Growl.
Always rocking the house with her distinctive vibrato, Diane Durrett can belt gut-bucket blues with the best of them. She proves it, again, on a couple of tracks on her latest album, Put A Lid On It. Much of this new, horn-heavy material though, relies on sly insinuation — less roar, more purr. In either case, she is clearly in control of a well-trained diaphragm, and it commands a certain, persuasive obeisance. We all could benefit from following her orders.
Backed by her band Soul Suga’, this release — her ninth full-length album — immediately shot to the No. 2 position on the Top 50 Soul Blues Albums chart. “I wanted the sound of solid, authentic American roots music,” she says, “to get to the soul of it.”
Durrett also is packing a message that might sound counterintuitive for the blues: She wants to cheer us up.
“Every album reflects its time,” Durrett says. “I worked on this one in 2020. I wanted to put out a message of positivity and love. I wanted to be a little tongue-in-cheek, to share good news, to sing about ‘your sweet lovin’. We’ve all been so inundated with bad news, so overwhelmed by the media.” (She also winks at politics with the catchy “Make America Groove Again.”)
Mainly, though, she would appreciate it if some of us piped down for a minute. “We were leaving a gig and talking about how so many people just go off on social media.” Hence the titular track, with jubilee keyboard flourishes and the lyrics: “Your words are like blisters, hurricanes and twisters/You always runnin’ your mouth/We goin’ south…Shut that biscuit hatch.”
Seldom has “shut up” sounded so sultry, and funny. This song features guitar virtuoso Tinsley Ellis. “Diane is one of Georgia’s musical treasures,” Ellis says. “She’s a triple threat as a singer, songwriter and bandleader.”
Durrett grew up in Atlanta and burst on the scene with her 1993 debut, 50,000 Volts of Soul. She has performed with Sting, Gregg Allman and The Indigo Girls, and she has opened for Tina Turner, Koko Taylor and Delbert McClinton. Her song catalog includes co-writes with William Bell (“Born Under a Bad Sign”), Jerry Ragovoy (“Piece of My Heart”), and Bonnie Bramlett (“Superstar”).
“Diane, like many other great artists, started in the barrooms and graduated to concert stages and recording studio as both artist and producer,” Ellis notes.
Durrett, who holds a degree in radio and television production from Georgia State University, also owns an artist development company, Blooming Tunes Music. She worked closely with drummer Yonrico Scott before he died in 2019 from a heart ailment.
“He told me about growing up with a mother who was a gospel singer, and I said, ‘You’re really a child of the blues,’ so we wrote a song with that title,” she recalls. “I really felt it was up to me to make sure his story-song got out, and we were able to use his drum tracks, as a sort of tribute.” During the pandemic, when live performances were canceled, Durrett diversified her skill set, editing videos and composing soundtracks for Georgia’s burgeoning film industry. “It helped me, to have something to do, something to occupy myself when I couldn’t tour,” she says. (Her handiwork can be viewed on her website.) She also produced and hosted a two-part series of interviews over Zoom called “In the Mix Studio PROS, Ladies Leading the Way” for the Atlanta chapter of the Recording Academy (where she is a member of the board of governors). “Only about two percent of engineers and producers are women,” she says.
Durrett has joined other music leaders across the country to advocate for creator rights in Georgia, resulting in the Music Modernization Act, which addresses copyright-related issues for music and audio recordings that involve new technology such as digital streaming.
She has stayed busy, in other words, but she misses her audience. In October, Durrett hosted and curated a cathartic event called “Women in Blues” in Stone Mountain, which drew an estimated 700 people. “There were at least 40 people doing the electric slide, people of all races, dancing together,” she says. “It was magical. People are ready to celebrate.”
In the end, music is about creating community, she says, noting that her last album was a live one, recorded at Eddie’s Attic in 2018.
“It’s so hard not to have live shows,” Durrett says. “There’s an exchange of energy that takes place between the artist and the listener. It’s good for us, as humans.”