In 2008, British songbird Duffy electrified the world with her distinctive, smoke-tinged vocals, which quickly earned her well-deserved comparisons to such legends as Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. Petite but vocally potent, she emerged with the acclaimed Grammy-winning album, Rockferry, strongly holding her own in the company of such other newly arrived British soul-blues phenoms as Amy Winehouse (Back to Black) and Adele (19). Mixing splendid retro-soul numbers with mellow pop songs steeped in pain, longing and unrequited love, Rockferry spawned the irresistible hits “Mercy,” “Stepping Stone,” “Warwick Avenue” and the resolute title track.
On her just-released follow-up effort, Endlessly (Mercury Records), Duffy (née Aimee Duffy) retains much of that deep soul power and honey-soaked vocalizations, but Endlessly also finds the singer testing out her range more. She sparkles on the relentlessly vibrant lead single “Well Well Well” (featuring The Roots), a giddily funky track, peppered with heavy drums and percussion, on which she takes a new lover to task. She channels her inner Madonna for the wonderful mid-tempo sizzler “Keeping My Baby,” which at once recalls “Papa Don’t Preach,” but then slows things down for the mesmerizing title track.
Noteworthy variations in mood and pace aside, the album is also significant in that it teams Duffy effectively with celebrated songwriter Albert Hammond, a highly respected Brit who has collaborated with people like Diane Warren, Elton John, Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin. The result here is a brisk 10-track collection of singles that range from slow-burning melodic ballads to rhythmic grooves. These are haunting tracks sure to endear listeners, but it becomes quite clear that Rockferry remains Duffy’s superior effort. Still, her one-of-a-kind voice is the attention-worthy main attraction that captivates on tracks like the stripped-down “Too Hurt to Dance” and gorgeous scene-stealers like “My Boy” and “Lovestruck”.
If anything, Endlessly is a sensitive, aching and tuneful set about relationships, joy and heartache that finds the singer beautifully side-stepping the sophomore slump after a multi-platinum breakout success. What’s more, despite the very minor hiccups, Duffy doesn’t crumble under the weight of expectancy that seems to beleaguer every artist on the hunt for a successful second act. For the most part, Duffy comes back nicely on a new album that fans will enjoy and new listeners will be pleased to discover.
BEST TRACKS: The retro-pop gem “Keeping My Baby” and the pulsating banger “Well Well Well”