If Katie Melua’s Call off the Search (Dramatico) had been released in the early sixties (not that far a hypothetical stretch), chances are she would’ve appeared on the cover dressed in a revealing cocktail dress instead of the shadowy introspective singer/songwriter garb she affects on her album debut. Not a bad pose for the teen-aged Miz M. (it sure beats the “I want That Girl!” image that Nellie McKay affected on her debut disc), but I bet she’d sell more discs if she’d gone for the Julie London look instead.
The Julie comparison is not meant too snarkily because I hear elements of the former Missus Jack Webb in some of Melua’s softer chanteuse moments. London, plus Waitress in A Donut Shop Maria Muldaur (who Melua most vocally resembles), orchestrated Judy Collins (even does a version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” a song that Collins nailed on her In My Life album) – not to mention Ray Charles in the more spritely rhythm-&-blues tracks – are all over this album. Whether you’ll enjoy it or not probably depends on your personal tolerance for music that at one time would’ve been marketed as Easy Listening and these days is just called Pop.
As a singer, Melua has a distinct instrument, though at times her callowness is a little too evident: when she sings about “feeling 22, acting 17″ in “The Closest Thing to Crazy,” us geezers in the audience might be forgiven for asking “there’s a difference?” since her voice neither communicates maturity nor impulsiveness. She’s much more effective playing the provoca-tease, a familiar role in this brand of jazz-pop. If Jessica Rabbit had a kid sister, Melua could do the singin’ voice in the nightclub scenes.
On the basis of her debut, I’m hoping that the girl hooks up with someone with a trace more grit than Batt for her next release, digs a bit deeper into the bluesy torchiness – and maybe rethinks her wardrobe, too? (Just kiddin’ on that last ‘un, Katie. . . honestly!) In the meantime, Search provides a soothing slice of late-nite listening. May not replace your copy of Cry Me A River, if you have it, but, hey, the kid’s still young. . . Powered by Sidelines