A Scouse Carrie Underwood or the love child of Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks? Laura Critchley looks as though she should be starring in a high-budget US TV series: lots of glossy blonde hair, huge doe eyes and long legs in skintight, low-slung jeans. Yet a small club in west London was the venue of choice for the Liverpudlian's first headline gig, and the sound of the evening was a hybrid of country, rock and pop that would be equally at home in a Nashville bar or at Wembley Stadium supporting Aerosmith.
The opening song, "Getting Over You" (co-written with Steve Booker, who wrote Duffy's debut, "Mercy"), was the most "pop" song of the night. Musically at odds to the rest of the set, its lyrics revealed that an ex-boyfriend had left her with a cracked, if not quite broken, heart, and ample inspiration for her songs. "It's Then", for example, dwells on those moments when she misses him, but humour was rescued with an aside: "Sod him, he was a crap bass player anyway".
Accompanied by her five-piece band for the most part, she broke up the set with three stripped-down songs. Neither she nor her sometime songwriting partner Dave Whitmey blinked an eyelid when the keyboard went into "circus mode", forcing the duo to perform the love song "Lullaby" with guitar for the first time.
Having served her apprenticeship supporting Boyzone, Deacon Blue and Sugababes, Critchley is supremely comfortable on stage. Throughout her hour-long set she bantered easily with the audience, providing insight into her life and lyrical influence without becoming a bore.
Not surprisingly for an artist with just one album, the set was peppered with covers, including Dusty Springfield's "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart", Kiki Dee's "I've Got the Music in Me", which Critchley truly made her own, and a rocked-up take on Billie Ray Martin's Nineties dance hit "Your Loving Arms". Perhaps dipping into the back catalogue of others is the way forward: Martin's song will also serve as Critchley's next single.
Radio 2 has already given this soft-rock chick plenty of airtime, but the rest of the British media is dragging its heels. Rejected by a reality-TV show for being blonde – "we've put too many through today" – there is more than a sniff of American Idol's Underwood about her.
But while Underwood had the might of the US show behind her, Critchley is on a small British label, and in the absence of Simon Cowell, she must rely on her songs and her Bonnie Tyler-esque voice to do the talking.
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