concert reviews

Katie Melua at The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, Sunday 20 February 2005

It would be too easy to compare Katie Melua with Norah Jones: They both sing a mellow jazz-blues that sounds older than their years. Indeed, Melua's show at the full Birchmere on Sunday night hinted at what an early Jones concert must have been like -- an intimate performance in front of a rapt audience.

But Melua has a style that's all her own: Her confident vocals poured emotion into Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" backed with just a piano, and she sang a down-tempo lounge version of John Mayall's bluesy "Crawling Up a Hill." But Melua performed more than just covers: Her own song "Belfast" gave a pensive look at the city where she grew up, and she and her three-piece band played a number of songs written by Mike Batt, her producer.

Most striking in Melua's set were the songs she performed solo, her strong voice floating over her gently plucked guitar like a tender song in the language of her birthplace, the former Soviet republic of Georgia. She bookended her performance solo with tributes to Eva Cassidy -- Melua's own delicate song "Faraway Voice" (which she dedicated to the late singer) and Cassidy's "Anniversary Song." While Melua might be perfectly content in Cassidy's shadow (and in Jones's), the strength of her performance and her smoky voice demonstrated that she has already carved out her own niche.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 22 February 2005
.: Selected discography: Call Off the Search (Katie Melua, 2004).