As winter gets more and more of a hold, you need an album that you can listen to while shut away in your nice warm house by your nice hot fire. This could be it. The “English” music scene has unearthed another gem in the form of Katie Melua, even if she was born by the Black Sea in Georgia (former USSR), moved to Belfast when she was eight, and didn’t arrive in London until she was in her teens.
Over the next few months you will hear a lot about Katie Melua, especially if you listen to Radio 2, where they are pushing her album in the same way that they helped Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy to enter the mainstream.
One of the continually occurring observations will be her age. She has just turned 19 and there is no doubt that she sings with maturity far far beyond her young age. In fact, even though the songs are well constructed and the covers chosen well, it is Katie Melua’s voice that carries this album and subsequently elevates it from an ordinary jazz / blues homage to one of the finest debut releases by such a young singer for some time. This is a young women singing songs for adults.
Obviously she is going to be compared to Norah Jones, which is no bad thing. They both portray similar moods, and hopefully manage to cross the barriers of blues and jazz into the more lucrative pop market. Norah Jones has a huskier, more distinct voice. Katie has more range. She has not sung in enough smoke-filled bars to sound as deep as Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Bettye Swann or any of the other legends of the blues. Instead it is sweeter, more light jazz than dark blues. Her love for and a similarity to Cassidy can be heard on Faraway Voice and her voice carries the naivety of youth on Learnin’ The Blues, a song I think she will perform 10 times better five years down the track.
Her voice is chameleon. It drops and rises, bends the notes like a blues guitar player and adds little trills and whistles in all the right places. It was made for songs like these, and will only get better with time.
The main accompaniment is acoustic guitar, at its Chicago blues best on Mockingbird, and piano, as in the boogie-woogie opening to My Aphrodisiac Is You. The instrumentation is never overpowering but subtle and delicate, and only gets loud and more aggressive when it is needed. Katie plays the guitar herself on some of the tracks, yet another arrow in her multi-talented arsenal.
The Closest Thing to Crazy, the first single and possible Christmas Number One, is not actually the strongest track on the album. That honour goes to Crawling Up A Hill, a visual and sonic treasure chest that demonstrates all that is good about this album and this singer.
Alongside Norah Jones and Carina Round, Katie Melua is a real young talent who deserves the respect that she gives to her music. My search is over, it’s just a shame that a lot of people won’t search out Katie Melua. That’s their loss. Don’t let it be yours.