Playing By Ear: A New Wave of Blue-Eyed Soul

Singer Duffy performs at The Pigalle Club in London. [Photo source: NPR/Getty]Everyone knows Amy Winehouse doesn’t want to go to rehab, and the U.S. Embassy in London doesn’t want to give her a visa to attend the Grammy Awards. NPR covered the story with a feature about a new wave of “big girl singing” sweeping the U.K. in her wake. A soul singer known as Duffy (seen in the photo left) caught my ear. Her voice reminds me of a young Aretha, edgier but not yet as full-bodied. NPR says it’s ” like she was born in Muscle Shoals… not Nefyn, North Wales.” Check out her web site to hear Mercy, then try to stay in your seat.

Neil McCormick, music critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, tells NPR that Amy Winehouse “changed the landscape of British music,” paving the way for this whole new generation of young female singers:

“Amy’s a really great talent,” he says. “She’s reached back into the roots of the music that she loves and created a very retro album. Because of that, what’s happened is you’ve seen a shift in the priorities of the record industry. She’s really put big girl singing back on the map. Adele wouldn’t be being called, you know, the star of 2008 if it hadn’t been for Amy putting that on the map.”

Adele is 19-year-old Adele Adkins, all teenage attitude and London vowels, who is being hailed as “the new Amy Winehouse.” Her album, 19, is No. 1 in the British charts. Her single, “Chasing Pavements,” is No. 2.

Like many of the new female singer-songwriters, Adele has become famous thanks to the Internet. She posts her songs online, plays her own guitar and sings about her tortured love life.

McCormick says the new generation of singers is a reflection of a new kind of “Girl Power” in Britain.

“In the ’90s, we got into this whole ‘lad’ thing where men were going to be men again,” he says, “…but the girls got into that as well, and you sort of had the ‘ladette.’ The younger girls coming through have sort of emerged out of that kind of fearless, mouthy, post-Oasis, post-lad culture.”

But the second pretender to Winehouse’s throne is not quite from that same mold. She’s all blonde ’60s hairstyle, dimpled cheeks and a voice like she was born in Muscle Shoals, Ala., not Nefyn, North Wales. She’s also called Amy, but she’s known by just her last name, Duffy, and her big chart hit is “Mercy.”

You can take me back to Mussel Shoals any ol’ time. The first wave of blue-eyed soul — ’60s singers like Eric Burdon, Van Morrison, Dusty Springfield — set the soundtrack for my misspent youth. I guess that means I’m not an old geezer, after all. I’m very retro.

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