OF ALL the songbirds to emerge in Amy Winehouse's wake, Duffy is the one whose rise feels the most stage-managed. Not that there is anything wrong in matching a singer with the right songwriter and producer, but the results of Duffy's collaboration with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler (among other producers) sound too much like a neat pastiche. Despite a solid set of influences, referencing 1960s girl-group soul, her debut album Rockferry is more polished than inspired.
Duffy's big, lusty voice impresses superficially, but on stage she came across as a shrill singing machine who doesn't inhabit her songs. Still a relatively inexperienced performer, she appeared comfortable while singing, even a little coquettish at times, but there was no deep soulful connection with her material, which you get from the far more awkward and vulnerable Winehouse. Her attempts at banter with the audience were also a little forced, adding to the impression that she may not have the ability to own a stage.
The music was pleasant enough in places. Stepping Stone has a brooding plaintiveness and current single Warwick Avenue is a charmingly sweet throwback to the British soul divas of the 1960s. Mercy, her first big hit, sounded as horribly synthetic as it does in its recorded incarnation, but went down well with the sold-out crowd.
Like any artist promoting a debut album, her set was lacking in content, forcing her to dredge up unremarkable b-sides and a so-so cover of Burt Bacharach's Please Stay in the encore. Unexpectedly, the live version of her cloying faux-Phil Spector number, Distant Dreamer, closed the gig with an enjoyable flourish, but Duffy still has significant ground to make up if she is going to convince as a pop diva.
CHRISTY MOORE ****
EDINBURGH FESTIVAL THEATRE
IT WAS A cold, rainy Sunday night, and Christy Moore declared we needed something to get us in the mood for summer. In fact, the song he chose was Shane McGowan's Fairytale of New York, which was perfectly in keeping with the weather if not the season.
This tour found the Irish troubadour in fine voice and fine humour. Opening with One Last Cold Kiss might have set a sombre tone for the evening, but he kept the patter coming. Early requests from the audience were met with a good-humoured: "We'll go into jukebox mode in about an hour!"
Moore has a way of singing to sell-out crowds in huge venues while creating the intimacy of a much smaller setting. With guitarist Declan Sinnott (albeit with four guitars) his only accompaniment, the focus is on the song, in all its rawness. In the more haunting numbers, Beeswing or Bright Blue Rose, the audience seemed to hold its collective breath.
At the other end of the scale, Delirium Tremens made a welcome return, its jokes updated. Don't Forget Your Shovel – with a line added in honour of Daniel O'Donnell's MBE – and Lisdoonvarna had the crowd singing.
The variety was constant, from angry songs about Hiroshima and Apartheid to Bobby Sands's McIlhatton, from Bob Dylan's Ballad of Hattie Carroll to a hardy perennial such as The Cliffs of Dooneen. Moore is now of an age when he allows himself a "senior moment" on the rare occasions that a line goes astray, but his musicianship, his voice and his wit remain undiminished.
RB MORRIS ****
THE VILLAGE, EDINBURGH
A WET Sunday night produced a decidedly intimate turnout for this Leith Festival gig, but those who braved the weather were treated to a typically compelling set from an artist whom Lucinda Williams has called "the greatest unknown songwriter in the country".
While Williams's frame of reference is the whole US, Morris's own particular corner of it is Knoxville, amid the mountains of east Tennessee, where he was born and has spent most of his life, carving his maverick niche as a singer/songwriter, poet, playwright, occasional actor and sometime academic. His combination of talents and influences feeds into a musical style that merges old-timey colours and rhythms with talking blues, beat poetry and raw-boned rock'n'roll.
Flanked by longtime cohort Hector Qirko on electric guitar, whose vibrant chiming chords and supple melodic picking dovetailed beautifully with the songs' varying moods, Morris's wordcraft and delivery frequently recalled such great, grittily humane bards as Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, John Prine and Chris Smither.
Some numbers wove vivid, impressionistic vignettes of city streets or small-town life, others sketched tales of drunks, drifters, fugitives and losers in love, Morris's voice shifting resonantly between rasping, world-weary raggedness and the rounder, smoother register of his softer ballads. An added treat was a brief opening set from itinerant fellow American Victoria Vox, who accompanied her arrestingly bright, ardent voice and vivacious songwriting with ukulele and trumpet impressions.