KT Tunstall,
Eye to the Telescope
(Relentless, 2004)

KT Tunstall confirms her credentials with this debut album as a Scottish singer-songwriter at the cutting edge of contemporary music. Together with her first-rate producer Steve Osborne, Tunstall has achieved one of the albums of the year through her gorgeous and bluesy singing combining alt pop with a roots touch. Much has been written already about who Tunstall can be compared with, but she deserves to be judged independently in her own right.

The opener, "Other Side of the World," was jointly written with Martin Terefe (as were two other songs) and it is one of the more instrumentally complex and expansive numbers on the album. Tunstall plays wurlitzer here, in addition to her usual guitar, while drum programming and strings are added to the usual band based around drums and bass. This powerful song about a long-distance love affair is an exciting combination of creative instrumentation, sublime tune and impressive vocal range, and is characteristic of Tunstall's work throughout the album.

The ever-presents in the band are Arnulf Lindner on bass and Luke Bullen on drums. On "Another Place to Fall," Tunstall plays piano and an intense track is created in which a sense of mystery at the outset gives the song a captivatingly dark edge. The chorus is much more upbeat, though, and she says of this number that "I think it conveys both sides of what I like to do." Another highlight number is "Suddenly I See," which again combines up-tempo sections with slower mysterious interludes. The song was evidently inspired by a Patti Smith photo, and this inspirational figure has clearly been important to Tunstall.

Alongside these three outstanding tracks, there are quieter and reflective numbers too in which Tunstall finds a more stripped-back sound. "Under the Weather" shows how perfect her enunciation is and she adds more instruments to her repertoire here including pianet. "Silent Sea" is contemplative and poetically deep and the guitar evokes the sea's shimmering surface. In "Universe & U," although it starts softly, Tunstall demonstrates that she can pull off more of a soul/pop love song with considerable aplomb underpinned by some great drumming by Bullen.

Three songs from an earlier EP, False Alarm, sit well on the album, too. "Miniature Disasters" is about ambition and making your own way in the world while also keeping your feet on the ground. Tunstall says it is "a mantra to myself." "False Alarm" itself is likely to have wide appeal particularly though the way in which the story of losing a friendship contains universal truths. "Heal Over" is the simplest yet one of the most perfect of songs. The plaintive guitar and vocal introduction can really stop you in your tracks. The song is given space to develop before the band comes in near the end giving a sense of resolution to the narrative thread.

The album concludes strongly with three very different songs again emphasizing Tunstall's capability with different styles. "Stoppin' the Love" features distinctive cello bowing and chaingang backing vocals in what is a very jazzy number. Together with "Universe & U" it demonstrates that she can certainly write a love song! "Through the Dark" is the one song here that seemed too derivative at first with its echoes of David Gray. On further listens though, Tunstall's piano playing and sheer vocal beauty won me over.

Most British listeners will know the bonus live track -- "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" -- best as this is the unedited version of Tunstall's attention-grabbing recent debut television performance on the Later With Jools Holland show. Although it is the only solo number on the album, she builds up a vocal, guitar and percussion backing sound through exciting use of the Akai Headrush loop machine. The lyrics here make a symbolic impact -- it is an impressive and memorable conclusion.

On the evidence of this album and recent live performances, the future looks very bright for KT Tunstall with her wonderful voice, ultra-talented songwriting skills and always impressive versatility.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 15 January 2005

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