Duffy, 'Rockferry' (Mercury)

8
Rockferry
Critical Mass
Label: Mercury

by Barry Walters

Like Amy Winehouse, fellow U.K. chart-topper Aimee Duffy is a white soul singer with '60s styling. Like the mother of all Brit soul birds Dusty Springfield, this young Welsh woman is fond of peroxide and mascara. Yet among the many appealing things about Duffy is that she's very much her own person -- a big-voiced smalltown girl who expresses herself with rare dignity. There's a joyous blues about her, a power in the way she articulates her acquiescence to dangerous love.

The title track of her debut summons the tear-streaked orchestral doom of Roy Orbison tempered with a survivor's pragmatism: "I wouldn't write to you / 'Cause I'm not that kind." As Duffy sings of a disillusioning suitor (the album's recurring theme), the melody embodies her struggle by steadily rising until it takes the singer's sultry alto far beyond its comfort zone, and she's wailing with harrowing rawness. Equally adept at '60s Stax-style ballads and sweeping symphonic pop, Duffy even energizes moments of stillness, and on "Mercy," she pays tribute to Northern Soul's hip-shaking rapture. Ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler -- a kindred master of melodrama -- produces and cowrites luxuriously silky tunes that showcase her grit, and the contrast between the pair's lucid talents and her deeply felt pain evokes a newly minted print of a classic film noir: The shadows come richly dark, and the brilliance pierces.

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