Ms. KT Tunstall, already lauded at the tender age of 20, has quite an interesting background. She was born to a Scottish father and a Chinese mother, given up for adoption, and raised by a physicist in St. Andrews who took her to the Royal Scottish Observatory to look at the stars. How all of this led to an auspicious debut album finding Tunstall with chops like an American blues singer is beyond me, but it did lead to the title of that album, Eye to the Telescope. (Actually, Tunstall spent some time in the US, specifically California and Connecticut). Already having been released in the UK, the album led to the young artist to not only Brit Award nominations, but also a win in the solo female artist category! The diverse background and the trips to the observatory all might have led to Tunstall’s fascination with space, but it just might have been her favorite album, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, that made Eye to the Telescope as good as it is.
This is not to say that Telescope is sonically similar to one of Bowie’s masterpieces, but it’s fair to say that Tunstall is already an accomplished songwriter in her own right. Most reviews and hype I’ve seen on Tunstall has her compared alongside Brit songstress Dido. At times, certain inflections and the timbre of her voice might easily lead one to that conclusion, but there is a lot more going on here. The buzz over her debut album reminds me of the clamor over the debut of Damien Rice. Upon hearing the song “Cannonball,” hordes of people began to get caught up in the wake of Rice’s melancholy folk. Whether Tunstall can find the same sort of success as Rice remains to be seen, especially considering the boost that “The Blower’s Daughter” received from being the centerpiece of the film, Closer. Tunstall’s music isn’t as heartfelt or intricate, and if it suffers from anything, it is almost too much production. There is almost nothing organic about the album, with every note and beat carefully recorded and overdubbed. That being said, Eye to the Telescope is a wonderful album.
KT (which doesn’t stand for anything, it’s just her clever way of spelling Katie) has a magnificent voice and it is this voice that is the lodestone for the album. Going between deep and rough valleys and high pitches, Tunstall is in control of her voice at all times. The perfect example of which is in a song that finds its home late in the album, “Heal Over.” The track reminds me of Nelly Furtado’s finer stuff, or even Sia’s most recent album, Colour the Small One. The first half of the album is radio ready, with uptempo songs like “Other Side of the World,” “Another Place to Fall” and tacked on US single “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” leading the way. But it is the second half that truly shines (with one exception at the beginning in “Under the Weather,” though it is lyrically similar to Winnie the Pooh’s “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud”). “False Alarm” starts like either a John Lennon solo track or Radiohead’s “No Surprises” and has the same kind of emotional build-up, which is a trademark for the latter. “Through the Dark” saves the best for last with a dirge like piano melody reminiscent of both Rufus Wainwright and Norah Jones.
KT Tunstall has earned all of the lofty comparisons with her stunner of a debut album, Eye to the Telescope. Great voices can deliver anything, from lyrical poetry to sappy greeting card sentiment. Tunstall’s lyrics are somewhere in between, not necessarily bad, but not quite yet near one of her heroes, Carole King. One can easily look over that fact due to her gifted vocal performances. The album also handily mixes various styles of pop music to make one big crossover hit that will please many fans on both sides of the Atlantic. For her Brit Award Nominations, Tunstall performed one of her album tracks on BBC’s Radio 1, “Suddenly I See,” along with a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” which has earned mixed reviews depending on the level of sycophantism. (Hey, she made it her own. What can you say?) Me, I’d love to hear her try “Life on Mars.”
Carole King- The Living Room Tour
Nelly Furtado- Whoa, Nelly!
Dido- Life for Rent