DUFFY: ‘Rockferry’ (Label: A&M)

DUFFY: 'Rockferry'

By now just about everyone in the UK will be familiar with Amy Ann Duffy. The 23-year-old blond singer from Nefyn, North Wales, is currently enjoying pole position in the British singles chart with ‘Mercy,’ an infectious slice of gospel-infused retro-rhythm and blues that recalls ’60s blue-eyed soul divas Dusty Springfield and Lulu. Though there’s obviously a lot of PR hype and money helping to propel Duffy into the big time, there’s no doubt that her unique voice – a raspy, bittersweet instrument that recalls Bettye LaVette, Candi Staton and even, in places, Bettye Swann – deserves a large, appreciative audience. The big test for Duffy is whether she’ll be able to sustain the type of heady success she’s currently enjoying. However, on the evidence of this eagerly anticipated debut album – which apparently has been in gestation for three years – the future looks bright. Sympathetically helmed by guitarist Bernard Butler – former member of Suede and one-time musical partner of David McAlmont – ‘Rockferry’ is a varied yet cohesive set containing ten soulful, well-wrought songs. The atmospheric title track has a palpable ’60s feel and its striking instrumental introduction recalls antique Mersey beat groups like Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas. By contrast, ‘Warwick Avenue’ – complete with an opulent arrangement for string orchestra – is a catchy mid-tempo ballad that has a Motown feel. ‘Serious’ is even more addictive, largely due to its slinky mid-paced groove and insistent chorus. The gorgeous ‘Steppin’ Stone’ is also noteworthy and features a poignant vocal underpinned by a haunting arrangement that recalls Dionne Warwick’s Bacharach-David-helmed ‘Walk On By.’ Arguably the best showcase for Duffy’s vocal prowess is ‘Syrup and Honey,’ an achingly slow, bluesy cut, which sounds like it was recorded in Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the late ’60s/early ’70s. ‘Hanging On Too Long’ is also strong, sounding like something Bettye Swann might have recorded for Atlantic in the early ’70s while the plaintive ‘Delayed Devotion’ has an Al Green/Hi Records feel. Indeed, Duffy’s influences are transparent but she’s no mere copyist or karaoke singer and has definitely distilled her influences and added something of her own that gives her vocal delivery a unique, distinctive sound. Despite having a running time of just under 40 minutes, this album is not short on quality and proves to be a tantalising debut that leaves the listener craving more.
(CW) 4/5