Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA

If you saw the Sex and the City movie, you may just remember Duffy’s hot single Mercy from the soundtrack. The song has also been receiving significant airplay on national radio thanks to its infectious, retro soul sound. The comparisons between Duffy and Amy Winehouse have been obvious, with many criticizing Duffy (whose rarely-mentioned first name ironically is Aimee) for her sound, claiming it is manufactured in order to ride on Amy Winehouse’s wave of success. The biggest difference, though, is that Duffy’s music is more accessible; manufactured or not. While Amy Winehouse is undoubtedly talented, her songs are at times difficult to instantly connect with. In that sense, Rockferry, Duffy’s debut album, is not comparable to Amy Winehouse’s material at all. All the songs are easily likeable, and Mercy is in fact the oddball track in the collection. Duffy’s sound is more like that of Gabrielle, but with a more pop sensibility. When it comes to the Winehouse sound, only on other track, Syrup & Honey, comes close. The rest of the album – which I honestly think is great – is much more toned-down and soulful. Try Warwick Avenue and Hanging On Too Long as examples. I’m Scared and Distant Dreamer are phenomenal, the former being a sweetly melancholy song while the latter is powerful and utterly memorable. The retro-soul sound is probably the latest fashion in British music, but when it comes to execution, Duffy has done it brilliantly.

Marketed and distributed by Warner Music Gallo Africa

An intriguing name, haunting vocals and sweet, sweeping melodies combine to great effect on Yael Naïm’s self-titled new album, featuring the equally talented David Donatien on percussion. Born in Paris to French and Tunisian parents, Yael spent her childhood growing up in Israel (she even served in the Israeli defense force). Her debut album was released in 2001, but it’s thanks to Apple, who used the track New Soul in the marketing campaign for their sleek new Macbook Air, that Yael is fast becoming a household name. The song debuted at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, based on digital sales alone, and made Yael the first Israeli artist in history to score a US top 10 single. But it’s with good reason. It’s honest folk music at its core, but stands out because it features vocals in English, French and Hebrew. There’s also a touch of jazz in it, which, combined with the evocative and delicate words and Yael’s husky voice, makes for an album that will leave you enchanted. Besides New Soul, which is brilliant, I also loved Paris, Lonely, Lachlom and The Endless Song of Happiness. In a world where music often sounds as if it comes from a conveyor belt, Yael Naïm brings us more than a touch of originality. It makes you smile on the inside and leaves you wanting more.

Marketed and distributed by Warner Music Gallo Africa

For her new album, Flavors of Entanglement, Alanis teams up with Guy Sigsworth, a man better-known for his work in the electronica genre. His background is definitely discernable on a number of tracks, but his input is generally included in a subtle way (In Praise of the Vulnerable Man, Moratorium). Well, most of the time: I’m still not entirely sure however of what the two had in mind when they recorded Straitjacket and Giggling for No Reason. That said, the good news is that on many tracks (Citizen of the Planet, Version of Violence, Tapes) Alanis sounds like the original vocalist we came to love with You Oughta Know. A few slower songs bring a nice balance to the eclectic collection, with Underneath, Torch and Not As We being notable examples. In general though, I must admit that Flavors of Entanglement is not easy to get into. It’s diverse not only in content but also in style and, while it generally makes for a listenable collection, there are one or two quirky tracks that I skipped every time. Creatively it’s a top notch effort, but in terms of mainstream appeal, it’s still no patch to Jagged Little Pill. Perhaps it’s time to rope in Glen Ballard again…

Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG Music Entertainment SA

Other than her exotic name, Sara Bareilles is an all-American girl from California who, like so many other started performing in bars and clubs after high school and university. Her hard work and perseverance paid off; for today Sara already has thee Billboard number ones under her belt. Things weren’t always so easy though. After releasing her debut album in 2004, she only got a record contract a year later, and spent most of 2006 preparing material for her sophomore album, Little Voice. Again, the wait was worth it as Love Song, the delightful first single off Little Voice, went all the way to number one on three of Bilboard’s charts. Little Voice is a folk album at its core, but has more than enough pop and rock influences to keep it balanced – think Fiona Apple, Nerina Pallot or a less melancholic Sheryl Crow. Love Song is a definite highlight, while Come Round and Love On The Rocks would be at home on a Maroon5 album. It’s the more introspective songs like Bottle It Up, One Sweet Love and Gravity that leave a lasting impression though. American folk singers of the female kind are a dime a dozen, but Sara Bareilles manages to still stand out. I have a feeling that her Little Voice will become a very big voice in the not-so-distant future!

Marketed and distributed by Warner Music Gallo Africa

Starting as a solo project in the late nineties, Death Cab for Cutie got its name from the title of a song performed by the group Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the Beatles’ 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. Falling unto the alternative and indie genres, Death Cab for Cutie has been building a strong following over the past decade, releasing a number of EPs along the way. It was only in 2004 that the band signed their first major contract, and now, in 2008, we’re finally seeing what the financial backing of a big label can do. Narrow Stairs has been critically acclaimed by critics and fans alike, and after only one listen I immediately knew why. It is an epic odyssey of music that is extremely difficult to truly classify, but so easy to listen to that it’s instantly likable. From the opening track, Bixby Canyon Bridge, to the epic first single, I Will Possess Your Heart, right through to Your New Twin Sized Bed, the brilliant Long Division and Pity and Fear, it’s simply wonderful. There are too many sounds and influences to mention, but it all comes together into an emotional, poetic and lush whole. Narrow Stairs is the type of album that can make or break an indie group. It’s monumental in its brilliance and creativ

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