Thursday, June 19, 2008

Duffy's Rockferry / Adele's 19

Retro soul seems to be in good hands thanks to the young women of the United Kingdom. Like the great Dusty Springfield back in the day and the troubled but undeniably talented Amy Winehouse in more recent times, soulful divas are carrying the torch with a reverence for what has come before combined with a solid grounding in current times.

(Aimee Anne) Duffy’s Rockferry is a heartfelt and enormously engaging soul record, the young Welsh singer has a strong voice and she indulges in no unnecessary grandstanding, she just sings with passion and conviction (and how utterly refreshing is that?) She not only invokes the spirit of honored predecessors like Springfield and Petula Clark but she also brings the classic Motown sound to the 21st century (one can easily hear a young Gladys Knight or Martha Reeves slipping easily into the sweet mid-tempo grooves of tunes like “Warwick Avenue” (make with the clickety-click for the video) or “Serious”, with its great Supremes-like backing vocals, or the infectiously propulsive groove of a stomper “Mercy”.)

Duffy also has a smoldering, bluesy side that comes to the party on tracks like the spare (just her voice and a guitar to very fine effect) “Syrup and Honey” or the majestic “Hanging on Too Long”.

There’s not a false note to be found on Rockferry, which ends with the stirring, affirming “Distant Dreamer” with its rock-steady beat cushioned by a mighty wall of Spectoresque sound.

Adele (Laurie Blue Adkins)’s 19 starts with a dreaming song of its own, the lilting “Daydreamer”. Adele’s rich, supple voice is colored to lovely effect with her British accent. She is a soul singer but her influences seem to go beyond that to incorporate Nina Simone, Bjork (the staccato rhythms and vocals of “My Same” brings her to mind), and even the Beatles (there’s a trippy interlude on “Cold Shoulder” that could have fit nicely on “The White Album”...see video below.)

From the sassy, acerbic “Best for Last” and “Right as Rain” to the soaring “Chasing Pavements” (click the link for the video)…from the stripped down bluesy “Crazy for You” and “Melt My Heart to Stone” (both of which I can easily imagine Etta James singing…though she would be hard pressed to do them better than they are done here) to the lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” to the subdued glory of the self-affirming closer “Hometown Glory”…Adele proves herself to be a musical force to be reckoned with.

Both Duffy and Adele are soulful breaths of fresh air and their music is much appreciated from this corner.

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