In a couple of days there’ll be a review here of a rather impressive new album from Jessie Buckley, who you and Troy McCLure might know from such shows as Fargo and The Lost Daughter, and Bernard Butler, who you might … well, actually, that’s the thing.
Butler, who goes back to the first iteration of Suede (and released two flawed but nonetheless rewarding solo albums before the turn of the century), is a frequent visitor to this site in recent years as a songwriter, a guitarist, and/or producer, alongside Catherine Anne Davies and David McAlmont, or Ben Watt and Pet Shop Boys, not to mention (the late and much lamented) Sons And Daughters and Texas, and so we’re told, a coming Altered Images record.
(Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler)
While we wait for that review, Wind Back Wednesday takes a detour to an album that bears some relationship to the Buckley/Butler one, Duffy’s 2008 debut, Rockferry, a huge success at the time. Rockferry was the last time Duffy worked with Butler, and perhaps not coincidentally, the last substantial thing she did.
AMY DUFFY DOESN’T have a sweet voice, or a growly voice, or a big booming voice, the usually calling cards of soul singers, new, old or fake. The Welsh singer's voice has a bit of Lulu's push-through in the gutsier parts and a touch of Little Eva in the top of the head twang, and technically it isn't anything special.
She doesn't do eyeliner-on-crack nor is she some super confident teenager from the Brit school or a preternaturally old sounding white girl from Devon sounding like a black woman from Memphis. And don't believe the excitable magazines; she is not the new Dusty.
Nonetheless she does have a voice made for soul music because it tells a story and it wears its emotion out in the open with a crack in the centre like anyone with real feeling does. Sure, there is nothing new to say in her songs: love hurts, loneliness pains, leaving town for pastures new can frighten, falling in love can be intoxicating. But then again, we hold these truths to be not just self-evident but constant and universal so there'll always be room for them to be sung if the songs are good enough.
And on Rockferry enough of them are.
There is the grand sweep of Warwick Avenue, the tremulous sway of Hanging On Too Long (which has a strong hint of Heard It Through The Grapevine that you suspect is not accidental), the sexy mid-tempo swing of Serious and the cocky dance of Mercy.
Better yet there's the deliberate buildup and just-held-in dramatics of Distant Dreamer, where you can picture it being sung with beehive and full-length dress on a '60s TV variety show. And then the title track, with its Bond theme-like climax at around three minutes where a touch of another Welsh singer, Miss Shirley Bassey, slips in.
While Duffy has several co-writers on the album it's no surprise to those of us who have happily followed his career since the early days of Suede that both Distant Dreamer and Rockferry (and for that matter Serious) were co-written with and produced by Bernard Butler.
A lover of dramatic pop who knows just how much orchestration is exquisitely too much (hey, sometimes restraint is over-rated), Butler is a songwriter with a fan's obsessiveness. Whether he's doing Neil Young or Phil Spector or Holland Dozier Holland crossed with Bacharach, he nails the feel and the sound. It may be pastiche, but I don't think so because he still squeezes out emotion, in this case aided by Duffy's natural tendencies.
There is no point claiming that Rockferry is a work of genius. It is a genre album, albeit a very good genre still effective 40 years on from its first flowering. And it a first work from a novice, albeit a talented novice. Some of the songs veer too close to formula too. But it is an album that is easy to enjoy first off, surprisingly capable of moving you with later listens and still satisfying two dozen or so listens on.