Album: Beverley Knight

Who I Am, Parlophone
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The Independent Culture

Beverley Knight's second album represents a quantum leap beyond her 1999 debut, Prodigal Sista, setting her apart as the most likely of the current crop of homegrown soul divas to transcend the parochial UK R&B scene and make a significant impact across the Atlantic. This is probably due largely to her collaboration with tried and tested American writing and production teams, especially the duo of James Poyser & Che Guevara who have previously proven so effective with the genre's more creative exponents (Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu), and who bring a limber touch to Knight's work here. The recent hit single "Get Up!" perhaps best illustrates her fresh transatlantic style, with a little ragga twitch and delicately stalking synth bass animating an understated groove reminiscent of D'Angelo's best work. Elsewhere, mid-tempo ballads such as "Shape of You" and "Gold" are handled with a refreshing absence of the usual soul-diva showboating, allowing the songs to shine through unimpeded. Equally adept at the soulful lower register of the blues and the euphoric choruses of R&B anthems, Knight reserves her more distinctive efforts for the deep-soul number "Bestseller Mystery", giving it the full Etta James over steely blues guitar fills; although the quiet country-soul lament "Fallen Soldier" is at least as effective, her voice clear and emotive over the album's barest backdrop of sparse guitar and percussion. Like the album as a whole, it's marked by an impressive restraint that's far more persuasive than the ghastly histrionics of her American peers.