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BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT How can I review Welsh import Duffy‘s Rockferry album without getting caught up in the UK retro-pop marketing race? “If you like the sound of Amy Winehouse but are put off by the extraneous skank angle, try Duffy!” That works for me. Beside, there’s no topping Winehouse’s take on Lenny Bruce’s “Girl Singing” bit, and the cost of producing bubblegum with Sugar in the Raw is prohibitive.
Duffy’s the cute, ever-so-slightly sassy good girl of swingin’ ’60s culture. She’s at her dinner club best on the title track and the late-’70s-style take on ’60 Motown, “Warwick Avenue.” You remember Smokey Robinson‘s “Cruisin’,” don’t you? The only difference is that Duffy is waxing nostalgic over an era she never sniffed from the tip of a rubber nipple let alone lived. At other times, such as on “Sleeping Stone” and “Delayed Devotion,” the late-’70s smooth soul production familiar to older listeners of Philadelphia’s WDAS betrays the Brigitte Bardot hairdo and all-around To Sir With Love packaging. There’s not a thing wrong with this sound when done well, but I note this as a warning to any middle-aged rock nerds hoping to get even a knuckle’s worth of the depth to a great Dusty Springfield performance.
The 6/8 slow burn of “Syrup & Honey” adds a needed dash of gravitas to Rockferry, but when Duffy slips into a kewpie doll kazoo tone on the chorus, singing “Baby, baby, baby,” she compares unfavorably to the girl power once displayed by Stiff Records’ teen would-be sensation Rachel Sweet, on her cover of “B-A-B-Y.” “Hanging On Too Long,” with it’s “Heard it Through the Grapevine” string arrangements and Duffy’s open-hearted performance, confirms the singer’s true place in pop: she’s the latest offering in the UK’s endless supply of “up with soul” singers, from Lisa Stansfield to Lulu. She’s doing her part from across the Atlantic to preserve a bit of the innocence lost from our own musical tradition. By the time Rockferry hits on the savvy “Rehab” response “Mercy,” with its chorus of Brit-pop reaffirming “yeah, yeah, yeah,”Happy Hour is in full swing. Tomorrow’s another day at the office.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed King likes a lot of things, but mostly he likes to be left alone. Ed has kicked around the outer orbits of the periphery of local scene for some time. He was there when Tuxedomoon played Revival. Ed likes all things great and some things good. Anymore, what falls short of those simple criteria gets harder to bear. He appreciates you respecting his privacy at time like this.