Monday, 21 February 2011

Dusty Springfield - Cameo

When Burt speaks...

According to my tabloid tipple, the Welsh chanteuse Duffy is leaving the music business. Her decision has apparently been prompted by a poor response to her second album and thus she is going to have babies instead of recording and performing. That's a shame for her - not the having babies - but ending a career, or at least the beginnings of a musical career. It's not a particular shame for the music industry, and I'm not being nasty. I liked Duffy well enough though her nasal noise could nauseate. Her first album was very popular and I enjoyed the songs. Whenever interviewed in that heavy promotion circuit to support a new release she always came across as grounded and honest about herself and her music.

It's no great loss in as much as there is an abundance of good British female singers already there and others climbing onto the cloning treadmill. A quick reference would be Amy Winehouse, Adele, Rumer - to suggest a lineage that would include Duffy just after AW - and then Florence Welch, Natasha Khan and those others I have heard but just can't remember their names.

There are voices in that brief list I do like: Amy Winehouse ought to be earning her place in history, her first album showing a jazzier voice before various affectations, and then the other stuff, and Florence Welch probably has the most powerfully pure voice of this cohort.

How do any of these chanteuses earn their place in musical history? They will always be compared with their precursors, either the most immediate ones or those from the days when legendary status could be achieved. Even Rumer has to reference one of these in her song 'Aretha' from her recent debut album and it's a pleasing enough song with a pleasing enough voice, but I don't think I will return to the album because I have heard it all before.

Perhaps it is the fact that there are so many consistently good voices out there that it's difficult to rise above the collective heads. All of this focus on female singers has been prompted by my watching last night an excellent TV programme 'The British Invasion: Dusty Springfield' and my listening now to her album Cameo because that's one that I have. Of course she is one of the 'greats' and as I have said before in this blog it is difficult if not even wrong to always make comparisons between artists. But if they decide to do it themselves....

This album Cameo is not her most famous, for example compared with Dusty in Memphis, but it is still excellent from beginning to end, and, rightly or wrongly, how do you compete with this? It is genuinely difficult to compete with the songwriting because when you have Burt Bacharach penning your occasional hit [on other albums] that is a significant advantage. The main writers here are Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter contributing five of the eleven tracks and producing the whole album [though the programme does tell us that Dusty is the uncredited producer of much on her various albums, having selected the songs themselves as well as backing singers and musicians; she also wrote some of her own material]. One track, 'Tupelo Honey', is written by Van Morrison and is the title song of his fifth album. More importantly it reflects the range of songs she choose to sing but also the strength of that choice and also, perhaps, the strength of what was available at that time. This song's R&B female backing vocals provide a funky support to Dusty's soulful singing.

One of the more impressive moments in the programme was the great man Bacharach himself in a cool lounge - that's posture not room - describing her singing as 'very soft and intimate.....a Smokey voice, a sexy voice' and then commenting expertly on her breathing control, and you realise what an accolade the Robinson reference is and just how accurate his judgement must be. He adds, in what could seem a throwaway line, that she was also 'a nice lady, let's not forget that', which he repeats for effect, and again you realise that these respectively large and simple assessments are full of affection and experience and assurance.

I'll end not surprisingly by returning to the theme of current British chanteuses but perhaps surprisingly by mentioning one that I think might have the most distinctive voice, or at least the most potential to make a name for herself: Cher Lloyd. Yes, I do mean the mean girl from 'X-Factor' though the meanness is probably one of the many show-induced and tabloid fueled myths that so many feel is a requisite for success these days, as if talent alone will not suffice. She too has her precursor demons to fight off or tame but within the confines of what that programme revealed I saw enough of a pure voice and a genuine rap affinity to sense a true talent and a star - whatever that latter term can really mean these days - in the making. At least there is the possibility to see a freshish slate on the female British singing scene. Let's hope all of the other crap associated with her introduction through 'X-Factor' and the myriad pitfalls of the music industry itself and the public's fickle tastes do not destroy that potential.

[The picture of Dusty at the top of this piece is from a 1966 concert where she closes her show with 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me', shown on the TV programme, and it's a brilliant performance and apparently at the very top of her vocal range, a pitch she refused to alter because it was how the song was written, and thus she would close on this as it would have hurt to continue afterwards]


  1. An interesting comment on Cher Lloyd! I detest x Factor, but I do agree that she has genuine talent. I'm not sure, however, how long she will survive in the circus that currently surrounds her. Dusty is fabulous - I never tire of listening to her sultry tones and wish I had even a fraction of her singing ability.

  2. Thanks as ever for stopping by Trish. Yes, I thought that would be controversial if anyone actually read it [!] but I do mean it. I'm no avid fan of 'X-Factor' but watch. It essentially crafts talent rather than discovers in so many ways. CL could well be a talent who will never shine because of that experience. We shall see.