Thursday, February 5, 2009

05 Feb: Pretty cool old Aussie review of Rockferry

I know this was posted last year but it's the first time I've read it so I'm posting it now.

Duffy beams down from radio heaven

By Noel Mengel

LAST night, wine glass in hand, dancing 'tween the piano and the laundry basket, singing my lungs out, playing this and wondering where the hell I'd put my Lulu 45s, I was going to Linkgive this 10 stars out of five.

But that only creates unfair expectations, and we all know that too much expectation ruins everything. And the last thing I'm going to do is ruin anyone's enjoyment of Duffy.

You'll be reading the words "Dusty Springfield" in reviews of Welsh songstress Duffy – real-name Aimee-Ann Duffy – and that is merited. Amy Winehouse will be mentioned too, because Duffy is a woman, writes good songs, and is going to be massive (already is massive in the UK).

But you will be reminded of other voices and other sounds from that golden era of pop, of Lulu, of Petula Clark, of Sandie Shaw. And groups too: The Supremes, and those American boys who went to the UK to find their soul heart, The Walker Brothers.

Duffy has a voice that can be occasionally brassy but mostly walks a lovely line between innocent and seductive.

The songwriting is bold. This is music with weight, not the pre-fab pap that floats off into the ether never to be thought of again. Proper drums. Proper strings. Tambourine. Glockenspiel.

Whatever "soul" is, Rockferry has it. It's a cracking soul record, like some treasure from '67 beamed back down from radio heaven to remind us what we've been missing.

The opening title tune really could have been on the To Sir With Love soundtrack. Warwick Avenue smoulders, a too-late-to-talk-things-over tale. "I'm leaving you for the last time," Duffy declares. Violins soar, hearts break. It also sounds a bit like The Jam's The Bitterest Pill, another classic slice of Brit nuevo-soul. Come to think of it, she really should have a go at that for album No.2.

The quality never wavers. Serious recalls the great days of Motown. The lingering Stepping Stone might be from the pen of Bacharach and David. The catch in the voice is there on Syrup & Honey, a splendid vocal performance which needs nothing more than the four-chord soul trick and the vibrato switch on the guitar amp to back it up.

Hanging on Too Long, with its rich orchestral punctuation and aching vocal, goes places pop songs rarely do.

Mercy takes that short walk from the gospel fervour of a Detroit church to the Holland-Dozier-Holland songbook. Delayed Devotion sounds tailor-made for Diana Ross. I'm Scared goes back even further, to Phil Spector, Carole King, Ellie Greenwich. And Distant Dreamer is epic, with its floor-tom rumble, those portentous strings, a distant sax, building, building, building. You can imagine Roy Orbison singing it.

It turns out that Ms Duffy hasn't gone back to those writers from long ago, even if it sounds like it. She co-writes with the likes of Jimmy Hogarth (KT Tunstall), Steve Booker (Natalie Imbruglia and, ahem, Lindsay Lohan) and, most notably, Bernard Butler, of Suede. Now there's a man who knows his '60s. At 23, so does Duffy.

So, just the four stars then, right?

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