The Sophomore Class – KT Tunstall, James Blunt

Two standout singer/songwriters from across the pond have just released their second efforts:  KT Tunstall’s “Drastic Fantastic” and James Blunt’s “All the Lost Souls.”   Tunstall shifts slightly away from the percussive one-girl band tricks that marked her debut “Under the Telescope.”  Blunt sports a fuller sound than 2005’s “Back to Bedlam,” all the while channeling his inner Bee Gee.  Of the two, Tunstall’s is the most winning.

For this go-round, KT Tunstall wraps her capacious voice around a rugged pop sound.  On the rollicking “Funnyman,” and the soulful “Saving My Face,” she positively soars.  “Hold On” most closely resembles her biggest hit to date, “Black Horse and Cherry Tree,” but it’s the quieter moments of “Drastic Fantastic” that tantalize most, and mark Tunstall as an artist with a chance to inhabit radios (and iPods) for years down the road. 

“White Bird” gently draws the dichotomy of purity and street wisdom into “a land where they both meet,” while “Beauty of Uncertainty” is sure to draw comparisons to Stevie Nicks.  But it’s better than that – like Nicks, Tunstall’s singing is smooth and supple, but with more leather than lace.

The countrified “Hopeless” is fueled nicely by Roger McGuinn-inspired 12-string guitar, while “I Don’t Want You Now” opens like an early Elvis Costello song without the sneer, but no less certain sentiments. 

“Someday Soon” best captures the disc’s spirit, splitting the difference between pensive ballad and buoyant pop.  With this release, KT Tunstall hits an elusive target for most artists – a sophomore release that surpasses her debut.

If only the same could be said for James Blunt.  “Here we go again,” he sings on the leadoff track, “1973.”  Too much of “All the Lost Souls” is fixated on that decade, decked out in Elton John kitsch.  The surviving Gibb brothers might consider suing him over “One of the Brightest Stars” – consciously or not, its melody is a note for note plagiarizing of “Now and Then,” from 1975’s “Main Course”.   

Blunt also subtly pilfers George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” guitar figure for “Same Mistake” – ironic considering what George went through with “He’s So Fine.”

“Carry You Home” is closer to the syrupy formula that catapulted Blunt to chart heights.  Depending on your tastes, that could be a good or a bad thing. In 2005, “You’re Beautiful” stuck to brains like kudzu to Georgia garden walls.  Some (this writer included) have yet to forgive him for that. 

OK, the record’s not all bad.  The protagonist of “I Really Want You” simmers with rage, a vivid portrait of post-traumatic stress stripped raw.  An acoustic version of “1973” is included as a bonus cut on some versions. Its’ economy brings nuance to everything that’s overwrought about the album version. 

It’s sad that the rest of “All the Lost Souls” isn’t as restrained.

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