February 23, 2006

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KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope
Virgin Records, 2006

Tunstall is one of those British sensations finally releasing her debut album here in the rebel colonies.

She’s of Scottish stock, though you wouldn’t know it by her smooth voice. Mix up equal parts Norah Jones and Janis Joplin, along with a pinch of Pat Benatar, and there’s your voice. Add in a bit of the modestly talented but gorgeous chick everyone fawned over at last week’s open mike and you have the whole image.

Far from just a pretty singer, though, Tunstall is the real deal. A few songs suffer from unneeded overproduction — a result, I suspect, of being composed on nothing but an acoustic guitar and getting built up later — but on the whole, Eye to the Telescope is a solid folk rock album.

“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” features Tunstall playing everything but drums, and the unimaginative drum track drags down an otherwise fantastic, driven song. She plays most of the instruments on all the tunes, in fact, and even did some of the illustrations in the CD booklet.

“Other Side of the World” opens the album with wistful but assertive longing, setting the stage for a bunch of songs about identity. “Suddenly I See” is the most boppy of all, as well as the most cheerfully cynical.

Unfortunately, the album doesn’t showcase Tunstall’s talent in performing live. Using a loop recorder, she lays down tracks on the fly and performs with herself on backing vocals or percussion. Personally, I think electric cellist Gideon Freudmann does this better than anyone, but Tunstall did it masterfully, managing to flabbergast Scott Simon on NPR.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but plenty to satisfy the coffeehouse crowd, especially when they’ve consumed enough caffeine to jump up and shake a little. Might’ve managed an A if she hadn’t rhymed “strife” and “life” on the second track. B+
— John “jaQ” Andrews