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Music Review

Wales, by way of Motown: Duffy belts out soulful refrains

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / August 7, 2008

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

With significant poise and an even more impressive set of pipes, Welsh soul singer Duffy delighted a sold-out crowd in her first Boston gig Tuesday night.

Already a hot commodity at home, where her debut "Rockferry" has reaped critical plaudits and passed the million sales mark, Duffy has proven to be a standout among the recent wave of female R&B singers from across the pond.

Fronting a six-piece band at the Wilbur Theatre, Duffy sang her Motown and Stax-flavored throwbacks with a power that belied her petite frame, dressed up in an adorable polka-dot jumper.

While a bit strident in her highest belt, the 24-year-old had great command, lending a tender ache in the high registers and a stirring vibrato in the low.

Whether playing victimized - the wounded "Hanging On Too Long" - or saucy - the Al Green-evoking "Delayed Devotion" - or both - "Stepping Stone" - she relished working the shades and contours of the melodies.

The Amy Winehouse comparison that dogs her is less a matter of sound than style. Duffy's more girlish voice hews closer to the Lulu-Ronnie Spector school with an emotionally controlled delivery, and her stage presence - complete with elegant Supremes-cum-spokesmodel arm gestures - more mannered.

A cover of Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me" may not have retained much of the rawness of the original but it was a nice nod to history, and "Rockferry" soared with equal parts romantic melancholy and girl group melodrama.

With just one album and a few B-sides to draw from, Duffy brought the night to a close at the hour mark with the dramatic crescendos of "Distant Dreamer."

The songs weren't always up to the quality of her voice but as Duffy matures, the songwriter will perhaps catch up to the singer.

Local R&B outfit Eli "Paperboy" Reed & the True Loves were a thematically sensible fit for the gig as the barking Reed and his hot band work from a similar vintage soul baseline.

In its first major test run as a temporary nightclub substitute during the Avalon-to-House of Blues transition, the grand little theater offered great sightlines with graded general admission areas and reserved seating in the mezzanine and balcony.

The mix was a little bass heavy and the volume perhaps a few notches too loud for the space. Depending on the show, the promoters might want to reconsider the decision to remove the floor seats. Many of those who waited the entire 50 minutes for Duffy to take the stage Tuesday night looked as if they might have been grateful for a place to sit.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. For more on music, go to boston. com/ae/music/blog.

Duffy

With Eli "Paperboy" Reed & the True Loves

At the Wilbur Theatre, Boston, Tuesday night

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