Album: Katie Melua

Piece by Piece, DRAMATICO
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The Independent Culture

The Devendra Banhart album casts a rather large shadow across this follow-up to Call off the Search, not least in the way its ramshackle idiosyncrasies show up Katie Melua's songwriting and performances as strictly businesslike affairs. But how could it be otherwise, with Mike "Womble" Batt at the helm? His presence ensures the unstintingly professional approach which petrifies many of these tracks in cabaret wasteland. There's a genial, JJ Cale-ish feel to "Shy Boy", with some eloquently fluid lead guitar lines underscoring the singer's preference for diffident suitors; and "Piece By Piece" is an elegant enough break-up song. But there's no forgiving the way her anti-racism piece "Spider's Web" revives the same piano-key metaphor employed in the ghastly "Ebony And Ivory". "Blue Shoes" is more agreeable, its jazz trumpet and orchestral arrangement recalling Tom Waits' romantic odyssey One from the Heart. The cover versions illustrate both the virtues and drawbacks of her approach: the Cure song "Just Like Heaven" is built around a springy acoustic guitar, pleasant enough, while the smooth way she deals with "Blues in the Night" confirms Melua's cabaret capabilities; but the nightclub treatment of "On the Road Again" drains all the magic from the Canned Heat boogie classic, leaving a hollow shell of a song.

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