Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA

I first heard of Amy Winehouse one Friday evening in 2003 while getting completely plastered on cocktails with the MD on a major publishing house in Cape Town. Needless to say, the lady’s enthusiasm for the singer was dead on: Amy Winehouse made a big splash on the British music scene with Frank, her jazz-influenced debut album with often explicit lyrics, which won several awards and much critical acclaim. This year Amy returns with her sophomore offering, Back To Black, an album that made history by becoming the highest Billboard debut (number seven) by a female British artist in history. (That is, until Joss Stone’s new CD debuted at number two a few weeks later.) Back To Black is a brilliant album regardless and sales have boomed partly because of the incredibly addictive first single, Rehab. The focus on Back To Black shifts to the sound of ‘50s and ‘60s girl groups but retains a jazz feel, making for a highly enjoyable, very melodic and almost sing-along collection of tracks. Besides the phenomenal Rehab, I particularly enjoyed You Know I’m No Good, the fantastic Me & Mr Jones, Back To Black and Tears Dry On Their Own. Admittedly much of the fascination with Amy is her persona: British tabloids are going out of their way to prove that Amy is a full-blown alcoholic. She has admitted that she is a clinically diagnosed manic depressive but not taking medication and she’s been quoted as saying that she’s more boy than girl, although not a lesbian – at least not before a Sambuca. Throw in her eating disorders and you have one seriously quirky, gifted and highly memorable woman. Back In Black is one of 2007’s must-have albums.


Marketed and distributed by EMI Music SA

Joss Stone’s debut album from 2004, Soul Sessions, sold over two million copies and peaked at number 39 on the Billboard charts in the USA, a remarkable achievement for an unknown British singer. The following year she released Mind, Body & Soul, which not only peaked at number 11 on the Billboard charts, but also earned her three Grammy nominations. This year has seen Joss winning a Grammy (for her collaboration with Sly & The Family Stone, John Legend and Van Hunt on Family Affair), and now she returns with a phenomenal third album simply entitled Introducing Joss Stone. Third time is definitely the charm, as the album sold 118 000 copies in its first week of release in the USA and debuted at number two on the Billboard charts – the highest-ever chart debut by a female artist from the UK. What makes this achievement even more phenomenal is that Joss Stone is not a typical pop singer; her unique brand of pop, rock, funk and R&B-infused soul music making a massive impact on the world’s musical landscape. Introducing Joss Stone is undoubtedly also her best offering yet, with Joss writing or co-writing the bulk of the tracks with legendary musician Raphael Saadiq. First single, Tell Me ‘Bout It, is a fantastic introduction to the new album, and songs like Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now (featuring Common) and Music (which was co-written by Wyclef Jean and features Lauryn Hill) stand out. Girl They Won’t Believe It, Put Your Hands On Me and Bruised But Not Broken are also worth a mention. The music and the songs are more mature and cohesive whilst retaining a decidedly fun attitude. Raphael Saadiq’s skills as a musician shines through with the slick production. Introducing Joss Stone is simply brilliant and will undoubtedly win her more Grammys next year.


Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA

I’ve been a closeted fan of Natalie Cole for a long time. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s she released a number of memorable songs (such as 1987’s Pink Cadillac, 1989’s brilliant Miss You Like Crazy and 1990’s Wild Women Do from Pretty Woman). She then largely faded into the background, other than releasing a few singles, soundtrack contributions and greatest hits packages. It is for this reason that I was anxious to get my hands on Leavin’, her first studio album in 20 years. With her soulful voice, which is perfect for R&B-infused pop music, I’m delighted to say that Leavin’ doesn’t disappoint. Produced by the equally-legendary Dallas Austin, the album contains 11 interpretations of familiar songs by well-known songwriters as well as one new composition. Her soulful interpretation of Shelby Lynn’s Leavin’ is touching, her Grammy-nominated interpretation of Aretha Franklin’s Day Dreaming remarkable and her subtle strength on Neil Young’s Old Man inspiring. I truly loved her bluesy remake of Fiona Apple’s Criminal, the almost edgy feel of Des’ree’s You Gotta Be, and the acoustic guitar-driven remake of Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith is even better than the original. Leavin’ is timeless, quality pop music at its best. With her roots firmly in the R&B/soul and jazz genres, Natalie Cole’s power of interpretation impresses, especially since most of the original versions of the songs are some of my favourites. Having sold over 30 million albums in roughly the same amount of years, Natalie Cole is an artist like few others. Eight Grammy Awards later, it’s fantastic that Miss Cole is still going strong. Leavin’ is one of this year’s biggest surprises.


Marketed and distributed by EMI Music SA

Hilary Duff is one of America’s best-loved teen idols; one of those business savvy girls who can sing and act and in the process has cultivated a massive fan base. Her self-titled album from 2005 failed to impress although her Most Wanted collection from the same year did much to introduce me to her music. Now a smouldering brunette, Hilary returns in 2007 with a very impressive new album entitled Dignity. It’s still the radio-friendly pop music she’s known for, but I’ve picked up on a very tangible maturity in her voice and lyrics which make a big difference. Also, the music has a bit of an edge: beats range from pop to hip-hop and electronica, and it even offers some rather clever sampling here and there. Hilary wrote or co-wrote just about every track on the album, and had collaborators of note to make the tracks on Dignity stand above her previous offerings (there are songs by Pink, Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk – the latter two did extensive writing on Avril Lavigne’s previous album). I attribute the more cohesive, quality sound of Dignity to Kara DioGuardi’s extensive involvement – her most recent work includes hit singles for Jewel, Santana, Paris Hilton, Pussycat Dolls and Kelly Clarkson. Previous work also includes a number of hits for Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias – in fact, even Kylie’s Fever and Spinning Around came from her pen! I especially noted the title track, current single With Love, Gypsy Woman, the retro Never Stops, Between You and Me and Dreamer, although all the tracks are enjoyable. Dignity came as an impressive surprise and goes to show that even a

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