There's a big, bouffanted shadow looming over Aimee Duffy's debut album, but it would be reductive to write off the Welsh songstress as the second coming of Amy Winehouse. (Though that certainly hasn't stopped anyone.) There are obvious similarities: Each traffics in highly polished neo-soul and maintains a calculated retro-chic aesthetic, and the "yeah yeah yeah" hook of Rockferry's ultra-catchy single, "Mercy," echoes the ubiquitous chorus of "Rehab" a bit too closely. But where Winehouse's boozy growl conjures up smoky corners and regret, Duffy's world-weary voice radiates a cool remoteness that proves just as affecting. That ice-queen intrigue adds a certain cachet to the 23-year-old's occasionally overstudied lyrics. But the real joy of Duffy's best songs (especially "Stepping Stone" and "Warwick Avenue") isn't in her words, but in the interplay between her vocals and the slow-burning arrangements that hearken back to the best moments of Motown. Crooning over sparse, noir-y piano lines one moment, then belting over soaring strings the next, Duffy's voice creates an almost eerie sense of isolation, as if her universal laments on love and loss are a secret known only to her.
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