Katie Melua’s debut rides the Norah Jones pop-jazz highway straight down the middle of the road, but it’s a road with awfully nice landscaping. The 12-song release is filled with warm-hearted and accomplished singing, tasteful arrangements, and enough variety to make the album a good listen all the way through. It’s marred only by clumsy lyrics in the six songs written by Melua’s collaborator Mike Batt, including the otherwise lovely title track; the 19-year-old singer deserves better lines to wrap her sweet, slightly husky voice around.
Batt’s simple and lovely “Tiger in the Night” is an exception, but it’s lightweight, if not quite a throwaway. “The Closest Thing to Crazy” and “My Aphrodisiac Is You” are more interesting songs, and fortunately, Melua is such a talented, gorgeous-voiced singer that most of the time she transcends any weaknesses in the material anyway. I like Melua’s own two songs, especially “Belfast,” and her covers of songs by Randy Newman and John Mayall sparkle.
Musically, the material, a mix of jazz, blues, pop and singer-songwriter strains, is well chosen and well written. Like Ella Fitzgerald, whose influence is obvious, and also like the more airy-voiced Jones, Melua is at home in several categories of song, able to meld accessible pop with sophisticated jazz. Her delivery on the ballads (like “Tiger in the Night”) can be a little sleepy for my taste, but her blues (especially in “Mockingbird Song”) is satisfyingly convincing, especially for such a young singer. Her kittenish version of Mayall’s “Crawling Up a Hill” enters Rickie Lee Jones territory, and she drawls through a song called “Lilac Wine” like a wizened but less gravelly Marianne Faithfull. The classy instincts and sharp musical intelligence displayed on this CD promise an exceptional career.