The soulful club singing protégé of Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, Hollie Stephenson is tipped for greatness is some circles… provided she gets to the ears of the audience that will heed her most.
Unashamedly old fashioned in many respects, this debut album takes a bunch of songs (a few too many for my money) and puts them in the hands of a crack band that can play up a storm while the singer throws a full helping of Memphis Soul Stew at them. The trouble is Hollie Stephenson is still a teenager and she's from London, not Louisiana, while the records she is clearly in thrall to are imbued with every ounce of real lives lived… and not all of them lived very well. If you can separate the singers from the songs, there's no way you can pull them out of the culture that made them and expect them to sound anything other than paler.
None of which is Hollie Stephenson's fault, but she sure has set her bar high.
And that's before she tries to escape the long shadow of Amy Winehouse, the artist with whom she will inevitably be most readily compared.
To be fair, Ms Stephenson doesn't dodge the charge; instead she brings her best game and decorates songs like Dried Out Lies and Pointless Rebellion with the natural rhythms and glottal stops of the tube station princesses. The drifting ska click also propels the confessional My Own Tears, while Lovers Game adds the contemporary edge that could also benefit the by-numbers reggae of the bonus cut, Hard Way.
Elsewhere, there's more jazz and blues - and a little bit of church - Leave Her Be, while Man of Few Words picks up the pace, but hard as it might try the record doesn't reach beyond the confines of the age, gender and experience of its creator.
That said, I've a feeling there's a lot more to come…
|Kaity Rae: This Time Around||Various Artists: Refugee|
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