Poise and pipes
A cross between Norah Jones and Diana Krall with a dash of Kate Bush, Katie Melua has turned in a second album that has a feeling of completeness about it you wouldn't expect from a young artist still starting out. Built around her stunningly gorgeous voice and a strong set of songs written by Melua and producer Mike Batt, "Piece by Piece" is bluesy, jazzy, smart and sophisticated. The arrangements and songs themselves rival Steely Dan's best material in their ability to meld pop immediacy and a more intriguing complexity that let you listen to the songs over and again without boredom.
Born in the nation of Georgia, mostly raised up in Ireland, Melua has an international fuzziness to her accent that makes her singing accessible yet slightly exotic. Adding to this sense of magic, Melua and Batt have written some lovely gems here, from the opening "Shy Boy" to "Halfway Up the Hindu Kush" and the British chart-topping hit, "Nine Million Bicycles."
Then, in a surprising bit of chutzpah, Melua turns in a stripped-down reading of the jazz standard, "Blues in the Night." Nails it, too.
If that song and arrangement are an anamoly, the powerful performance is very representative of an album that is full of the kind of beguiling charm that makes listeners form lifelong attachments to musicians.
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