Rockferry, the Welsh singer's lovingly constructed debut album, has already succeeded beyond expectations, and although Duffy may not quite be the ing้nue portrayed by a clever press campaign (she nearly won a local television talent show a few years back while a single credited to Aimee Duffy is still available on iTunes) she is surely the most appealing of the current flood of young soul sirens. The astonishing title track, co-written by Bernard Butler, sounded like a lost transmission that had taken decades to get through as soon as it hit radio last year. But the gently rolling soul ballad "Stepping Stone", that strapping, inescapable monster hit "Mercy", the ice cool "Serious" (the one time she really does channel the spirit of Dusty Springfield) and the wistful, elegant "Warwick Avenue" are similarly effective. Suggestions by some that Rockferry is little more than sixties pastiche are churlish. Butler's previous work with David McAlmont (featured here as a backing singer) showed his skill at writing and arranging the dramatic, while her other collaborators such as Steve Booker and the team of Jimmy Hogarth and Eg White are hardly lightweights. But despite some wonderful orchestral settings, it's Duffy's terrific voice that makes this so satisfying, even overpowering Butler's exquisitely underplayed guitar work on "Rockferry" itself. Growling the blues on "Syrup & Honey" or belting it out over his lovingly arranged wall of sound on "Distant Dreamer", she sets the tone throughout, several of her songs dealing with escape, both physical and romantic. The sound of someone singing herself to stardom, Rockferry is at times genuinely amazing. --Steve Jelbert
By Nick Levine, Music Editor
The early signs were far from encouraging. Dubbed a "Winehouse-alike" by the more cynical elements of the press, and consistently overshadowed by Adele in "tips for 2008" lists, Duffy seemed to be the poor man's soul siren: a gritty instant coffee to her rivals' creamy, full-bodied cappuccino. However, the young Welsh lass already has something that neither Amy nor Adele can boast: a number one single. 'Mercy', a catchy northern soul pastiche buoyed by her big, boisterous voice, has been on top of the UK singles chart for the past fortnight.
That song's swingin' dancefloor vibe is slightly misleading, for the lion's share of her debut album is a soulful, ballad-heavy affair. Alongside a small group of established hitmakers, including Suede's Bernard Butler and James Blunt/KT Tunstall co-writer Jimmy Hogarth, Duffy has crafted an album of gorgeous little pop symphonies, running the sixties gamut from Bacharach-style lounge-pop ('Hanging On Too Long', 'Stepping Stone') to epic Spectorish ballads ('Distant Dreamer'). Along the way, she finds time for a couple of songs Dusty Springfield would call "big ballady things" ('Warwick Avenue', 'Rockferry') and lots of rich, melodramatic pop. What Rockferry lacks in originality - it's an exercise in replication, not innovation - it more than makes up for in good, old-fashioned songcraft.
Though its sound is as authentically sixties as a Mary Quant mini-skirt, with plenty of sweeping strings and taut, Motown-inspired basslines, Rockferry is filled with a very modern sense of self-awareness. Offering a cutting critique of a doomed relationship on 'Serious', Duffy describes herself as "an accessory that suits [her man's] new suede boots", while 'Warwick Avenue' finds her bruised and resilient, calling time on an unsatisfactory romance. Elsewhere, she vows never to be her man's 'Stepping Stone', chastises herself for 'Hanging On Too Long', and, on 'Delayed Devotion', tells a cold, fickle lover to "go to hell". We never got that from Dusty.
Whereas Adele's recent album suggests her talent is still in chrysalis, Duffy has benefited from being allowed to develop gradually, behind closed doors. Three years in the making, Rockferry betrays none of the false starts that hampered her early career. Such is the quality of songwriting here, from the melodic brilliance of 'Warwick Avenue' to the bluesy weep of 'Syrup & Honey', that we'd never have guessed Duffy's secret if the papers hadn't uncovered it: she finished second on the Welsh version of The X Factor in 2003.
As befits an album that begins with 'Rockferry', a mournful, slightly unsettling tale of moving on, and ends which 'Distant Dreamer', a soaring epic that finds Duffy contemplating "all the things I'd like to do with my life", Rockferry is a musical journey that's both sad and stirring. It's a testament to Duffy's remarkable talent particularly that tough, vulnerable, swooping voice that we're right behind her every step of the way.