Tuesday, 2 July 2019

KT Tunstall

I have only just "discovered" KT Tunstall, many years too late, so I am reviewing her work retrospectively....

Eye To The Telescope (2004)

....before knowing her music I had pre-conceived her to be a typical 2000s singer-songwriter - earnest and acoustic and, if I am honest, a bit drippy. The truth turned out to be anything but that. Of her albums, however, this debut is the one that fits that particular bill more than the others, but only in places. It is certainly not an airy student bedsit album. As I read somewhere else, it  has many places where it is rocky in a Sheryl Crow style as opposed to a sleepy Dido ambience. For me, there are hints of Oasis around here and there, and latter-day Elvis Costello too, plus huge dollops of Americana.
Other Side Of The World starts as you might possibly expect - dreamy, wistful, acoustic vocal tones  and backing. This is how I thought the whole album would be. It breaks out half way through, though, into something more anthemic, electric, bassy and powerful. Another Place To Fall sees the full band kick in on a staccato, rhythmic groove that shows KT's voice off considerably. There is no doubt by now that Tunstall has a much stronger voice than many of her more wishy-washy contemporaries. It has character, versatility and charisma. This is a much harder-hitting, punchier track than the somewhat low-key opener. It has a great bass line too. The song has a distinctive, later era Elvis Costello-esque quality to its rhythm. Under The Weather returns to the reflective style of the first track with another sleepy, but beautifully sung, laid-back track. 

Black Horse And The Cherry Tree has an infectious Americana upbeat folky beat to it, something you could imagine Nathaniel Rateliff rocking up fifteen years down the line. It is another powerful vocal. Scottish Tunstall sounds as if she is straight out of the Mid-West on this.

Miniature Disasters has a quirky, appealing rhythm and another convincing, bluesy vocal. Silent Sea is a gentle, acoustic number that has hints of Paul McCartney about it, lyrically. Paul Weller, too, at times. 
Universe And U sees the full band return once more with a solid drums and keyboards sonorous, slow backing and KT's vocal is blues rock-ish in a US rock chick sort of way. There are hints of Oasis in this song's melody, delivery and structure, particularly the "miles away" bit of the lyrics. False Alarm continues in the same solid but slow paced Oasis-style rock ballad style with a vaguely jazzy, late night feel to it. All honest stuff.

Suddenly I See was the one Tunstall track I was slightly familiar with from its Radio Two standard popularity - "that was KT Tunstall, now it's time for "Popmaster"....and after that Jeremy Vine's with us". It is, however, a marvellously catchy number, packed full of verve and vitality with a singalong chorus. It was deservedly a hit. Apparently KT admits that over half her income has come from it. 
Stoppin' The Love has a beat that reminds me of material from Elvis Costello's When I Was Cruel period. Once more, KT's voice is excellent - full, throaty and rasping but simultaneously soft and seductive. Heal Over keeps the trend of juxtaposition of a few lively numbers with a tender, thoughtful acoustic one going. It is sort of Stevie Nicks meets Grace Potter, vocally. Yes, I know it was recorded a long time before Potter's work, but that is what it sounds like to me, listening in 2019. Many is the album that ends with a song somewhat at odds with the tracks that had come before. This is also the case here as we get a stately, piano-driven Randy Newman-ish slow country blues-waltz of a ballad in Through The Dark. If anything, though, this excellent song helps to reiterate the fact that Tunstall is a most varied artist. This was a more than competent first album.

Drastic Fantastic (2007)

This was KT Tunstall's second album and, rather than going down the earnest, breathy Dido route of mid-2000s female singer-songwriters, she harnessed the rockier elements of her 2005 debut, Eye To The Telescope and went full-on pop-rock, certainly for the first two-thirds of the album. The cover gives a clue to that as KT poses like a seventies heavy metal axe man, silver glam-rock style guitar glistening.
Little Favours kick off with a big, deep drumbeat, backed up with crystal clear acoustic guitars and then jangly, solid electric riffs. The beat is lively and KT's vocals are strong and confident. It is probably the rockiest number on the album. If Only has a quirky, staccato beat and one of those swirling, airy, slightly slurry vocals. The chorus has KT going higher with her voice and is poppy and catchy. White Bird slows the tempo down considerably on a slightly jazzy and bluesy sleepy number. Very Americana. A bit of a hint of Lucinda Williams in places. The acoustic guitar, bass and brushy drum interlay is excellent. Funnyman opens with some buzzy, U2-ish guitar before the track delivers a shuffling backbeat. It kicks in to a muscular rock sound eventually, with a bit of Celtic-sounding mandolin enhancing it. The sound of songs like this is very 2000s but also slightly retrospective too.

Hold On continues in the same upbeat, vibrant, chunky style. Hopeless has a delicious deep bass line and a bit of the infectious style of the big hit Suddenly I See about it. KT's voice is impressive as indeed is the accessible sound and feel of the song. I Don't Want You Now is also poppy and appealing. Ideal Radio Two fare. Saving My Face is very Deacon Blue-ish in its "wooh-ooh" backing vocals, and in the track's general sound, merging acoustic and electric guitars. Beauty Of Uncertainty is a slow-pace acoustic and bass bluesy song, full of laid-back atmosphere and another great vocal. It is another in a long line of Americana-influenced numbers. By the end of the track it has developed a big, U2-esque sound, however. The relaxing, gentle strains of Someday Soon has a Bruce Springsteen-like strummed acoustic guitar and backing drums meeting a Mary Chapin Carpenter ambience and lyric as KT shows off her vocal versatility. Paper Aeroplane continues the laid-back last third of the album with a slow, haunting number. What began as a tub-thumping poppy album has ended as an airy, reflective one. Overall, though, this has largely been a vibrant offering and a generally ebullient one. KT Tunstall really is a very underrated artist.

Tiger Suit (2010)

I have to admit I had no knowledge of KT Tunstall's music until recently, so any review I do is a retrospective one. Forgive me for that if you are more familiar with her work. I had a preconception of her as being a bit of a bland, acoustic-strumming sincere singer-songwriter, popular with earnest students. That is not really the truth at all - her music is powerful, thoughtful and solid and possessing of hooks that grab you pretty quickly. Her voice is far more strong than I had presumed too, effortlessly soaring throatily above the most pounding of backings. There is nothing laid-back or reflective about this robust, lyrically-creative and musically vibrant album.
The opener, Uummannaq Song, breaks out from a solid, slightly Eastern-influenced sharp acoustic strum into a thumping, powerful rock number, with dominant backing vocals and a dance-style beat. It has a big, deep bass line too and some funky-ish guitars. Glamour Puss merges acoustic and electric guitars and some more Eastern-sounding backing noises, an infectious whistling keyboard part and a strong, committed, captivating vocal from Tunstall, who is far more "up for it" in her vocal than one may have imagined. She certainly is not the wishy-washy winsome folky singer I had erroneously thought her to be. Push That Knot Away is an upbeat, Bonnie Raitt-style umber which, while it rocks, also has clear Kate Bush influences in its structure and delivery. Difficulty has an excellent, buzzy guitar intro that swirls all around the song as Tunstall sounds very Texas-ish at times. Fade Like A Shadow is a marvellously muscular romp that demands your attention from the very beginning. Lost, for the first time, finds the pace cooling down with an airy ballad. Once again, KT's voice is superb, full of character and verve. There is a vague hint of Stevie Nicks at her most gravelly every now and again.

Golden Frames has a sumptuous deep, bluesy bass and drum intro and Tunstall's vocal is positively Deep South swamp blues. It is track absolutely packed full of atmosphere. What strikes me about this album is its level of diversity. It doesn't just wash over you, it is replete with changes in tempo and style. 
That is further exemplified by the good-time US-style thump of Come In, Get In that is worthy of Susan Tedeschi. It is an impressive piece of Americana from a Scottish singer. It also has an addictive rhythmic break in it too. (Still A) Weirdo sort of fits the dreamy, teenage-y angst thing but the fact that she sings "still a weirdo after all these years" makes it a slightly sad, reflective song. Its backing is perky and engaging. Madame Trudeaux is a return to the US-influenced material on a stompy shuffling rocker that sounds slightly Chrissie Hynde-Pretenders-esque, with its Message of Love drumbeat. I have to reiterate that tracks like this were a complete surprise to me, and a most pleasant one at that. The Entertainer is a suitably beguiling, engaging closer to a most impressive collection of songs. Apparently, Tunstall is in the mainstream, commercially, but, for me, this is anything but a mainstream album. It is innovative and adventurous from beginning to end. 

Wax (2018)

I had once presumed KT Tunstall to be another in a long line of earnest singer-songwriters, complete with acoustic guitar and dreamy songs. I was wrong. This is a big, powerful, credible rock album. I guess the front cover gives it away a bit.

I have only recently got into KT's music and I have to admit I am really enjoying discovering it. It's great. Varied, musically diverse and highly enjoyable to listen to. She has an excellent voice - strong and rasping.
Little Red Thread has a rousing, riffy rock beat and an intoxicating rhythm to it. It also features some deceptively intricate instrumentation in places. Human Being begins like an eighties synth-driven number before breaking out into a guitar-powered muscular rocker. The River is another supercharged number with KT on superb vocal form over "proper" guitar, bass and drum backing. It has a sort of US rocking feel to it. The Mountain has a mysterious, quirky keyboard and percussion rhythm and a sensual vocal from KT. It is a marvellously atmospheric track. I love this one. It is impossible to categorise, really, and often reminds of something else, but I don't know what it is. It may come to me eventually. 

The Healer (Redux) is another bona fide rock song, nothing wishy-washy about this. It sounds like Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. If you thought KT Tunstall was another mournful, acoustic-strumming singer-songwriter, you were wrong. This rocks, big time. Dark Side Of Me slows the pace down a bit for a US-sounding bluesy rock ballad in the Susan Tedeschi style. Poison In Your Cup is a delicious laid-back slow number with a great sound to it and a lovely bluesy vocal, a bit like Bonnie Raitt. There is often a hint of Stevie Nicks here and there in KT's voice too. Backlash And Vinegar is a slow but powerful country rock-style number, again reminiscent of Susan Tedeschi. A catchy, infectious rhythm drives the quirky In This Body. It is another excellent rock number. The Night That Bowie Died is a sad mid-pace number, with obvious references to the demise of David Bowie wrapped up in other more oblique lyrics that mean something to KT but whose meaning is not clear. Tiny Love is a beguiling, sombre-ish but beautiful closer to what is a really good album, one that is strong and dominant but also sensitive. It is definitely one I will return to. Genuinely enjoyable.

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