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Duffy – Rockferry (Album Review)

The problem with female solo singers post-Winehouse is that they can be split into two distinct groups. There’s the twee acoustic-led “light stuff” that has been released by Katie Melua, KT Tunstall, Kate Nash (plus probably a few more with the same first name…), Norah Jones, Corrine Bailey Rae, Amy McDonald, Delta Goodrem at al. And, to contrast, there’s the deep growly singers who sound like they really mean what they sing; they sound like they’ve experienced hardships. They’ve lived. They might not neccesarily have lived long but they sure have lived. Winehouse soundalike Adele fits into this second category, because of her rich soul-fuelled world-weary voice.

23-year old Welsh newcomer Duffy seemlessly skims between these two divisions. She has a soaring Northern soul groove in her voice but, at the same time, it’ll somehow sit quite easily on mainstream radio stations. Her debut album ‘Rockferry’ doesn’t have a purely pop sensibility but I can guarantee that Duffy won’t be dismissed as quaint. Lead single ‘Rockferry’ has an elegant blues vibe to it, and as she hypnotically intones “Not that kind / Rockferry” over and over again, the goosebumps are out in full force and the hairs are standing to attention: it’s a rather special moment the first time you hear it.

You don’t need to cherish this effervescent feeling though, because the album is full of this kind of thing. Second single ‘Mercy’ has, at the time I write this, been at the top of the UK Singles Chart for 2 weeks which, since her amazing appearance on Jools Holland’s Hootennany New Years Eve 2007 show (seek out her beautifully tender version of Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ on youtube if you can), seems like such a big step for Duffy but I can’t imagine that she won’t be able to cope; she comes off in interviews as very down-to-earth and unaffected by her new-found fame and the media spotlight.

The subdued shimmying chorus of ‘Stepping Stone’ is a delight, as Duffy’s states “But I’ll never be your stepping stone / Take it all or leave me alone / I will never be your stepping stone / I’m standing upright on my own”. Devious men have obviously messed this gal around before but now she’s not taking it anymore. Comparisons with Dusty Springfield are ubiquitous but with good reason (and it’s not exactly a criticism, is it?) on album standout ‘Warwick Avenue’ and elsewhere we find just the right balance of plaintive melancholy (‘Distant Dreamer’ is a brilliantly understated and broody piece of work) without heading into a horribly depressive cul-de-sac. ‘Syrup & Honey’ sounds like 60’s Lulu and the instrumentation on many tracks have an almost Clannad-style mystique. If there’s any justice in the world, Duffy will be as popular and sell as many albums as Dido, but without being so dire.
(By J. M. Ross)