Music Reviews – May 16

Duffy shows promise

Welsh singer and songwriter Duffy: A retro-soul ingenue

Rockferry Duffy — Mercury

Duffy’s debut album could slip in between Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield on a collector’s shelf, but the 23-year-old pop-soul ingenue says she developed her sound without hearing either artist.

Still, the singer-songwriter, who grew up in a remote Welsh village where top-40 music ruled, embodies the style and substance of a classic ’60s soul diva.

She co-wrote each of the 10 tracks on Rockferry, an album all about old-fashioned heartbreak.

On the title track, Duffy has “a bag of songs and a heavy heart.” She tells a lover they’re finished in the sparsely arranged Warwick Avenue, bemoans his lack of attention in Hanging On Too Long and tries to keep herself from the arms of a cheater in Stepping Stone.

She knows she’s a fool in love and pleads for compassion on the super-catchy single, Mercy. Duffy taps into her inner Aretha Franklin on the electro-tinged tune, begging for mercy over a bouncy chorus of yeah, yeah, yeahs.

While none of the album’s other songs are as punchy or uptempo and this toe-tapping track, Duffy delivers a solid, soulful debut with the same retro appeal and promise Amy Winehouse generated with 2006’s Back to Black.

Rockferry only lags on its final tune — ironically the album’s most positive. A soaring anthem about life’s possibilities laid over an orchestral backdrop, Distant Dreamer sounds like the theme song for a cheesy children’s film.

A lone guitar provides the melody and Duffy lets loose with a lovesick wail as she implores her baby to “spend your time on me” in the soulful and spare Syrup & Honey.

— Sandy Cohen, The Associated Press

Narrow Stairs Death Cab For Cutie — Atlantic

Making the jump from an indie label to a major one can spell disaster and many a fan heralded the demise of Death Cab For Cutie after their unfairly criticized Atlantic debut, 2005’s Plans.

Again boasting slick production and a new direction for their sound, Death Cab’s follow-up, Narrow Stairs, will shatter any expectations about this band — and here it’s a compliment.

Typically grounded in warm and bright flavours, Death Cab have widened their scope dramatically on Narrow Stairs, with synth providing dark tones and biting atmosphere — the disc floats and echoes.

Death Cab still cover the same heartfelt territory — love and happiness, rejection and regret — just with a lot more aplomb.

Disc opener Bixby Canyon Bridge provides a jolt, with a soft intro and frontman Ben Gibbard’s emotive vocals lulling you in before a hard riff hits you over the head.

Impressive lead single I Will Possess Your Heart boasts an ambitious intro — maybe too much so — propelled by bass and piano before Gibbard flashes his typical eloquence: “How I wish you could see the potential/The potential of you and me/It’s like a book elegantly bound/But in a language you can’t read just yet.”

The disc is nicely balanced between driving rock — the poppy No Sunlight, anthemic Cath, and joyous retro vibe of Long Division and Pity and Fear — and moody mid-tempo ballads — a poetic Grapevine Fires and the self-deprecating oddity of You Can Do Better Than Me.

Narrow Stairs is a knockout, and will make you throw out everything you’ve come to know about Death Cab For Cutie.

Equally sad and romantic, Your New Twin Sized Bed is a sweet lament to heartbreak, and Gibbard’s longing vocal will touch anyone who’s spent a rainy day crying in bed.

— John Kosik, The Associated Press