Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Music: KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope

It’s got to be tough to be categorized by music outlets as, variously, pop, rock, country and alternative. Especially when you started out as a folk singer.

The video for KT Tunstall’s ‘Black Horse & The Cherry Tree’ was playing on a country station when I first saw it. I left it on because it was directed by the great Sophie Muller, who needs to make a feature film very soon. But the song instantly won me over. Tunstall, from Scotland, is a powerhouse singer with performance chops honed from her busking days. The highest compliment I can pay her is that she wouldn’t stand a chance on American Idol.

Then I saw a clip of Tunstall doing ‘Black Horse’ live and fell in love. She’s literally a one-woman band; using her guitar, a tambourine, and a loop pedal she calls ‘the wee bastard,’ she lays down her own backing tracks, including vocals.

You can keep your Britneys and Beyoncés. Tunstall in performance – a single woman in the spotlight, in complete control of her instruments and her audience, fashioning a dense sound out of thin air – is incredibly sexy. What can I say, I’m a sucker for brunettes who know how to concentrate. Watching Tunstall provokes reveries straight out of a Cameron Crowe movie. Or the book that defines my generation of pop culture-besotted men best, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity:

“I’d want her to write songs at home, and ask me what I thought of them, and maybe include one of our private jokes in the lyrics, and thank me in the sleeve notes, maybe even include a picture of me on the inside cover, in the background somewhere, and I could watch her play live from the back, in the wings.”

I finally get that passage.

The album Eye to the Telescope is already a big hit in the U.K. and doesn’t have a weak song on it. Buy it now.