Tunstall Acoustic, Less is Best

By Jane Berg

‘Comfortable to the bone,’ a chorus line from KT Tunstall’s song ‘Boo Hoo’ is just how each swell and hum of her warm, easy voice makes you feel. It resonates with calm control over each strum, her second album ‘Acoustic Extravaganza’ is ideal for those willing to relax; to thaw out in the capable hands of a skilled musician. Current fans of the young Scottish singer drawn by her debut, ‘Eye to the Telescope’, at the top of the UK charts in 2005, will enjoy this more laidback folksy work which, though given less acclaim, should not be overlooked.

For those unfamiliar with her music, it is highly rhythmic and lively, classed as pop but with strong blues and alternative folk influences. Tunstall claims her goal is to make the music baby of Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell.

The album has been described as less adventurous than her past hits like ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ but in fact its whole charm lies in its candid simplicity, subtle content and sense of intimacy. There are no effects or sharp electric notes here to mess with the clever metaphors and sensitivity of Tunstall?s lyrics, just acoustic honesty at its best.

Opening with her characteristically buoyant guitar strumming, the whimsical melody of ‘Ashes’ is curiously juxtaposed to its content, a relationship about to tragically ‘burn out’; we can immediately sense the melancholic tone of ‘twisted irony’ which weaves through all the tracks.

Initially the album, released in May 2006, was only available via mail order from her website. It comes across as a more personal endeavor than an attempt to one-up herself. After months on the road, Tunstall and her band settled into a tiny studio on the Isle of Skye and recorded over two days between Christmas and New Year’s. Snatches of studio sounds between the straightforward simple compositions make for a quaint, personal mood.

Tunstall almost always builds up a tune so that you unwittingly sing along, and these songs are all memorable in their own right, ‘Ghost and the Girl’ is a catchy highlight; its rhythmic refrain is infectious. As she told The Guardian, she emphasises her naturally forceful beat because, ‘With a female voice you’re in the sweeter end of the frequency and you’ve got to do something exciting.’

The album carries a warning of ‘explicit content’ which reminds us she can be much grittier and grounded than her warm throated contemporaries Katie Melua or Adele.

It is certainly a more emotional album than her first, as she often revisits   the delicately plucked melodies so enchanting in ‘Silent Sea,’ here with the similarly poignant call of ‘Throw me a rope’: a delicate perusal of mutual dependence.

It’s so lovely to find an artist that can navigate the romantic theme while keeping their ideas in any way original, let alone at once mature, sensitive and relatable. It’s what I enjoyed about her first album and that here, she manages to delve even deeper emotionally and still maintain this balance, is commendable. There may be less wit in the lyrics than we’ve previously seen but the simple phrases are conveyed with sincerity and a soothing, seductive calm.

The album includes acoustic versions of her more successful songs from ‘Eye to the Telescope’Miniature Disasters’ and ‘Universe and You,’ along with a cover of Beck’s ‘Golden Age’ which for me, is a major high point. 

On the whole, this is a set of ten strong, moving songs which work together with delightful synergy. It’s an album whose well-considered track sequence takes us on a mature and involved emotional journey. While it is no ‘extravaganza’, this album is very like that rare piece of clothing which goes with everything, you probably won’t obsess over it but it’s something you can easily replay, or fondly rediscover in a year because it will pass the test of time. It’s perfect for a long solitary drive or a session of therapeutic self-pity, and you’ll want to keep it on the shelf in order to show off your good taste.


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