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Tuesday 25 January 2011

Adele: 21, CD of the week, review

Adele Atkins has a voice that goes right to the heart. Rating: * * * * *

A voice that goes right to the heart: Adele Atkins
A voice that goes right to the heart: Adele Atkins  

What a difference two years make. When Brit school graduate Adele Atkins released her debut album 19 (her age at the time), she seemed, along with the likes of Lily Allen and Kate Nash, part of a stampede of sparky young London singers who followed in the wake of Amy Winehouse.

While 19 went to number one and she picked up the inaugural Critics’ Choice Brit award, what distinguished Adele from the similarly retro-voiced Duffy was the name she made for herself across the Atlantic, where she won two Grammys and influential fans such as Bob Dylan and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

It is that American success that has shaped Atkins’s follow-up album. It’s steeped in Southern blues, country and soul. In another singer’s hands this might seem a nakedly ambitious attempt to appeal to the American charts, but Atkins makes the material sound genuine, largely because it is perfect for her. Where previously her slight, observational songs seemed barely able to carry her powerful voice, the emotional and musical heft of these styles enables her to really spread her vocal wings.

And her voice is a thing of wonder. There is warmth, power and vulnerability, sometimes in the same note. She has less of the unpredictable edge of Amy Winehouse, or the am-dram cool of Florence Welch, but she has a far greater range and subtlety than either, and hers is a voice that seems to go right to your heart.

Producers Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth have done the right thing by foregrounding that and leaving the musical background solid and unshowy. Whether she can sell American country sounds to a British audience remains to be seen, but avoiding the dancefloor pyrotechnics that so many singers are drawn to at the moment is a wise move — on this album she out-divas them all.

Download this: Rolling in the Deep

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