Seasons of My Soul

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While the alternative electro of Ellie Goulding and Marina & the Diamonds dominated the early Sound of 2010 polls, it's a former commune-dwelling lounge-pop chanteuse named after prolific children's author Rumer Godden who appears to have stolen their thunder on nearly every annual best albums countdown. Since the Radio 2 playlisting of her debut single, "Slow," 31-year-old Anglo-Pakistani Rumer has quietly crept up on her more NME-friendly counterparts thanks to her authentic '60s chilled-out sound, which has been publicly championed by everyone from musical hero Burt Bacharach, who personally invited her to sing for him at his California home, to former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who wrote a glowing review of her in The Guardian after seeing her perform on the prestigious Jools Holland show. Inspired by the 1930 standards of Rodgers & Hammerstein, the gospel soul of Laura Nyro, and the easy listening pop of Dusty Springfield, Seasons of My Soul is an astoundingly self-assured first offering that is a million miles away from the indie folk of her short-lived early-noughties outfit La Honda. Of course, there's no escaping the fact that Rumer's effortlessly smooth and warm tones bear an uncanny resemblance to Karen Carpenter, particularly on the multi-layered harmonies of "Blackbird" and the melancholic ballad "On My Way Home." However, her worldly vocal delivery, combined with some highly personal lyrics and luxurious orchestral production from Steve Brown (most famous for his role as the bandleader in Steve Coogan's chat-show spoof Knowing Me, Knowing You), elevates the album above being mere tribute act fodder. Although the tempo never strays beyond a walking pace, Seasons of My Soul impressively manages to remain fresh and intriguing throughout its 11 tracks. "Aretha," a tale of a young girl who escapes her tough domestic life by listening to the soul legend, is set against a backdrop of smoldering acoustics and simple blues melodies; the sensual brass-led "Come to Me High" offers a more provocative antidote to the album's prevalent wistful nature; and the harmonica and twanging guitar solos on closing track "Goodbye Girl" provide a convincing countrified reworking of the David Gates '70s classic. An immediately engaging debut, Seasons of My Soul has the potential to repeat the crossover success of Norah Jones' Come Away with Me and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, its unquestionable authenticity signaling the arrival of an equally timeless and unaffected voice.

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