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Reviewed by John Aizlewood for the Evening Standard


17.01.08 Pigalle London W1

The weight of expectation carried by those anointed being popular music's Next Big Thing has crushed many a talent before the role fell to Amy Ann Duffy.

Last night, the first of her four Wednesday Pigalle residencies, as if unaware the soothsayers and clairvoyants had gathered around her, Duffy simply got with the job of singing.

She may have been lauded in most of the right places by most of the right people but raised in a tiny North Wales village, Duffy's baggage-free outsider status blesses her with an air of authenticity a Brit School graduate such as Adele cannot eclipse.

Not a textbook beauty, she dressed down - jeans and a simple black top - so all that remained was her voice and her songs. For now, that's enough, although as insurance, a six-piece band gave her the gravitas and widescreen scope she requires (acoustic Duffy wouldn't work) and whereas once she stood frozen under the stage lights, now she jiggles.

As a songwriter, she is already on the march, be it the elegiac Rockferry or the floor-shaking Mercy, which nodded to northern soul and swinging London without sounding dated. Her voice, though, is unique, a mighty roar seemingly defying the laws of biology by belonging to a tiny Welshwoman.

It is a far from conventional sound, owing as much to Eartha Kitt and Kate Bush as to Dusty Springfield and Amy Winehouse, but when it wrapped itself around the lovelorn Warwick Avenue or the bold ballad Stepping Stone, it made perfect sense.

Best came last, with Distant Dreamer, where taped strings and Duffy's anthemic but alluring wail, transformed it into a barnstorming Climb Every Mountain for the 21st Century. Soon it will be time to erase the "Next" from Duffy's Next Big Thing title.

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