SINGER CAN'T REACH APOLLO HEIGHTS
By DAN AQUILANTEMay 14, 2008 -- SOMEWHERE between Dusty Springfield's lust for the son of a preacher man and Amy Winehouse's rehab refusal lies the music of a 24-year-old Welsh waif named Aimee Duffy.
The pretty blonde, who goes by the moniker Duffy, tested her '60s soul-singer chops in the heart of Harlem at the world famous Apollo Theater.
More so than any other venue in the city, the Apollo is the acid test for a soul singer. When you play there, you're making a statement that you think you have the voice and stagecraft to stand toe to toe with the greats - from Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday to Mariah Carey - who all launched their careers on that revered stage.
I liked Duffy. She's attractive, she has a terrific wall-of-sound band backing her, and she's a good singer. Unfortunately, she's not a great singer. During the course of her hourlong set, which mostly tapped tunes from her notable "Rockferry" album, Duffy stumbled with a case of the jitters.
In her attempt to sound as big as possible, she forgot to control her voice at the top end. At first, you wanted to blame the sound guy for the harsh tones when she reached for power passages, but it was consistent throughout the entire performance.
The song "Warwick Avenue" was the exception. Here, there was concentration on her face, precision in her voice, and she nailed the tune perfectly - from top to bottom. The crowd, warm throughout the show, turned boisterous.
"Thank you, what did I do?" asked Duffy, looking surprised at the volume of the fan appreciation. What she did was control her voice. She even got lost in the song's lyrics.
Performing doesn't appear to come naturally to Duffy; her inhibitions make it difficult for her to let go. She was very tight at the Apollo, and even when she raised her arm as she sang (as she often did), it appeared to be a mechanical move rather than a reach for heaven.
This singer has the look and a great debut record, but when it comes to the stage, she has to learn to control her voice - and lose control of her emotions.