First Night: Exotic diva delivers the voice lost on a forgettable album

KT Tunstall The Social, Nottingham

Ben Walsh
Monday 07 February 2005 01:02

"BEING SWEATY is a good thing, isn't it?'' KT Tunstall announces self-mockingly before launching into her debut single, the sassy blues of "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree''. "The single's out on 21 February so let's make it top 50'' she laughs.

Last October, armed only with her guitar and a loop pedal, Tunstall effortlessly outperformed such lofty luminaries as The Cure, Embrace and the venerable Jackson Brown on Later with Jools Holland.

Appearing on the show because jazz trumpeter Olu Dara fell ill, Tunstall took her chance breezily in her stride. Performing "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree'' the Scottish songstress managed to snaffle half of the audience's vote on the Later website. She was instantly and somewhat hysterically announced as the next pop diva.

The Independent even boldly struck a comparison with Carol King, a singer-songwriter Tunstall has herself cited as a huge influence. She has also been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Rikki Lee Jones, Fleetwood Mac and Christine McVie.

However, this time supported by a band and dressed like she's going to a school disco (tee-shirt, miniskirt and legwarmers), the exotic-looking singer (her birth-mother is Hong Kong Chinese, her birth-father is Irish) comes across more like a hybrid of Sheryl Crow and Edie Brickell and perhaps the hype and lavish praise being heaped upon her slender shoulders does appear slightly excessive.

Her debut album, Eye to the Telescope (made with U2's producer Steve Osbourne) showcases fragments of her languorous voice but it is ultimately overproduced, which makes the listening experience slightly less than memorable.

There were, however, three standout tracks: "False Alarm'', "Under the Weather'', and "The Universe and I''. Starker and grittier than the other over-tweaked numbers, these three intimate songs were also the stand-out numbers of the night, her delivery acidulously powerful.

In this unforgiving venue her husky voice with its occasional sexily throaty catch is far superior to anything she's thus far committed to record. On "Under the Weather'' in particular her seductive tones blend perfectly with the plaintive chord structures on this simple lament. Clearly the over-elaboration on the album diminishes her rootsy sass because tonight, in person, she has that quality in abundance.

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