No Mercy

The 24-year-old Welsh singer Aimee Duffy is showing her roots. Her
follicular ones, anyway: You can see some dark hair peeking out from
under her dyed-blond 'do as she sashays across the stage in a slinky
red dress.

Musically, it's a different story. Duffy - who uses her surname as
her nom de art - is performing retro songs that suggest she's studied
plenty of classic '60s soul and girl-group pop.

But studied is the operative word here, as she's coming across as an
unconvincing Winehouse-come-lately who views the whole retro-music
thing as a good career move, not a lifelong passion.

Duffy has a powerhouse voice and her singing is technically sound,
even if she's showing penchant for overusing vibrato. Yet there's an
emotional emptiness to this performance, as if she doesn't quite
understand the meaning of soul - at least not like the singers she's
trying to emulate (Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey, Dusty
Springfield).

It worked well enough in the studio, but live, she's all voice, no
heart - even as she sings about heartache and heady romance. And it's
not just her live voice I'm hearing right now: Duffy, whose debut
"Rockferry" features spectral wall-of-sound-style production, has been
backed by recorded vocal tracks on a couple of songs, where stacked
female vocals swelled in the background, even though it's just Duffy
and her all-male band.

In fact, they're closing right now with "Mercy," a frisky organ-fueled
romp that's the most appealing song in Duffy's nascent catalogue, and
lo - there are those voices again.

Duffy is actually doing a decent job at selling this song, but I'm
still not buying the shtick that she's selling.

--J. FREEDOM DU LAC

By David Malitz |  August 9, 2008; 1:30 PM ET Virgin Festival
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