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Music Review: Amy MacDonald – This Is The Life

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Scottish born Amy MacDonald has this going for her: she is a talented singer-songwriter who paid her dues, and then some, banging her way up the musical food chain, gig to dolorous gig, in her native country. She writes from the heart, that's obvious. And like all true artists, she puts all of herself into every song she sings—listen to This is the Life; this is one committed singer.

But here's what works against her: she sounds remarkably like another Scottish chanteuse, KT Tunstall, but with less verve and bounce. Tunstall has a significant following—like her or not—and the commercial success that often comes with it. Listening to MacDonald, unfortunately, ends up being a rumination on Tunstall.

Would Tunstall write it this way? Phrase it that way? Would KT repeat that verse again? Would Tunstall speed it up here? What about there?

Now, this is unfair to MacDonald, whose This is the Life is a fine, if a bit too strenuous, outing. Comparisons such as these are not good for either performer. But that they exist and affect how you respond to one or the other must be acknowledged. And these comparisons don't always work in MacDonald's favor.

For starters, Tunstall can take the same themes—desire, wishing to be out side yourself—and give them a more energetic, an even joyous, turn than MacDonald. And we all like our sorrow that way, don't we? Whether that's good or bad is not so relevant; what is relevant is that MacDonald—because of their shared geography and sound—is, for the moment, working in Tunstall's shadow.

In This is the Life MacDonald has written or co-written ("L.A.") all 11 songs on the disc. She writes with a wistful, longing muse looking over her shoulder: if only I had this life or that experience, my world would be perfect, or maybe I'm fooling myself and none of it would matter anyway. It's fertile ground for any artist: long for something you don't have and likely never will, and make art out of the wanting. (That defines Springsteen's career). And MacDonald excavates to perfection this longing and wishing.

"Give me a stage and I'll be a rock and roll queen/Your 20th century cover of a magazine/Rolling Stone here I come/Watch out everyone….Singing songs about dreams about hopes, about schemes…" This from "Let's Start a Band," a flamenco-sounding piece with subtle insinuations of the 1970s Welsh singer Mary Hopkin ("Those Were The Days").

In "I Wish for Something More," MacDonald sings: "Let's take a walk outside/See the world through each other's eyes…I wish for long lingering glances/Fairy tale romances/Every single day."

Tunstall might very well wish for the same things, but irony would save her from pathos: those things don't really exist, so let's just dance.

Amy MacDonald's This is the Life is smart and smartly crafted. Next time out, maybe she'll indulge the fantasy, wallow in it a bit, and then dance it away.

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About Stephen Foster

  • Amy Macdonald

    Everywhere else in the world, Amy Macdonald has completely outsold Tunstall this year.

    Her success in europe has been astronomical.
    I for one believe that if there is anyone in a shadow it will be Tunstall.

    The two artists do not sound similar at all.
    Add to this that Tunstall is 14 years Macdonald’s senior and then you really see who the superior artist is.

  • Eric / Scotland

    Actually , you miss the point. MacDonald can sing unlike Tunstall. She is only 19 and should improve with age. Tunstall has probably peaked , where MacDonald is only beginning.

  • SG

    On the contrary, Amy MacDonald is much better than Tunstall. There may be similarities because of the accents, but MacDonald’s lyrics, way of phrasing and the bounce in the songs (every one of them) is just so much fun to listen to and superior to Tunstall (who is an amazing musician). I can listen to MacDonald for hours.

  • Hmm… weird.. I never heard for Tunstall, however “This Is The Life” song from Amy play on radio here on daily basis.
    I would say that Amy Macdonald is atm much more popular on middle Europe than Tunstall.