Listening Booth: Beth Rowley, “Little Dreamer”

Written by Listening Booth, Music

Beth Rowley – Little Dreamer (2008, Verve Forecast)
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Yes, Beth Rowley is another white, female British soul singer, but before you write her off as another of Amy Winehouse’s coattail riders, it would behoove you to pause and consider a couple of things:

1. Amy Winehouse, talented as she is, isn’t the best this latest soul revival has to offer.
2. As music trends go, this is one of the best we’ve seen in years. If it’s possible to have such a thing as too many soul singers — white, female and British or otherwise — I, for one, am perfectly willing to find out just how many it takes to get there.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can evaluate Little Dreamer on its own merits — which, unfortunately, are rather small and pedestrian. Rowley is a talented vocalist, and this isn’t a bad debut album at all, but Dreamer does little to distinguish itself from the albums it’s going to be compared with. Song-to-song, Little Dreamer is more consistent than, say, Adele’s 19 — but it lacks a killer single as undeniable as “Chasing Pavements,” and Rowley’s voice lacks the grit and brassy overtones that many of her peers have been blessed with.

No, not brass, but porcelain. On the female soul-singer continuum, Rowley is closer to Dusty than Aretha, although she doesn’t really sound like either of those artists; her voice is part Bonnie Raitt and part Eva Cassidy, with a dash of Karen Carpenter thrown in. What Rowley lacks, however, is the songwriting chops it takes to come up with consistently memorable original material, or the interpretive depth to carry a classic cover. (Give her points for chutzpah, though — she covers both “I Shall Be Released” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” here.)

Of course, again, this is just a debut record from a young artist, and if not for the glut of similar artists releasing albums right now, Little Dreamer would probably sound fresher than it does. “Oh My Life” (download), in particular, is an eminently hummable taste of what’s hopefully to come from Beth Rowley.