Having won the first series of Sky 1's Must Be the Music, an antidote to the X-Factor, which allowed entrants to use instruments and perform their own self-penned material, 27-year-old Emma Gillespie, who records under the guise of Emma's Imagination, has received more goodwill than your usual Simon Cowell-backed talent show contestants. But while sales of her debut album, Stand Still, might not be expected to match the colossal sales of Leona Lewis and JLS, there is still a certain pressure on her D.I.Y. approach to reap more satisfying musical rewards. Just one of three acts signed to Gary Barlow's Future Records label, Gillespie is perhaps afforded the luxury of more creative control than her contemporaries. However, with producer Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, James Morrison) on board, it's clear that there have been at least a few compromises. The two tracks she performed on Must Be the Music, both of which became Top Ten singles during the series' run, appear here but are each given treatments at opposite ends of the spectrum. The haunting fragility of the original "Focus" is left untouched, with the tendency to smother its achingly beautiful melodies in layers of glossy production thankfully avoided. Unfortunately, "This Day" doesn't fare as well, with its unnecessary beats and swirling violins detracting from the original's refreshing simplicity. Luckily, its over-polished MOR sheen is largely absent from the remaining eight tracks. The chiming guitars, dubby basslines, and languid beats of "Puddy Muddle" recalls the '90s trip-hop of Morcheeba; "Brighter Greener" is a lightly strummed folk-pop number which showcases Gillespie's light Kate Walsh-esque vocals; while the twanging country-blues of "Soul of Oceans" echoes the more brooding moments of KT Tunstall's debut. Considering her success was built on her ability to write her own songs, it's disappointing that Stand Still also contains two rather pointless cover versions. They might not be the unimaginative "Unchained Melody"-style karaoke standards dumped on most X-Factor winners, but renditions of Bic Runga's "Drive" and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's Oscar-winning duet "Falling Slowly," as respectful and competently performed as they are, offer nothing new on the originals. While Stand Still doesn't really live up to the anticipation, (it's undoubtedly more Dido than say, Laura Marling), it's still a welcome departure from the usual over-processed talent show winner debuts. On the whole, Stand Still manages to translate Gillespie's charming acoustic TV performances into a cohesive and consistently enjoyable studio album.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien