Katie Melua On Unknown Sundays 2024


There are so many fantastic vocalists in the music multiverse that can range and reach and enrapture a song, whether they’ve written it or not.  They can somehow embody it and deliver it with such vigor and control that it shakes the soul, levels microphones, and creates stirring discussions of greatest of all time.  When I say these things, I’m wondering who you’re thinking of.  Let me guess.  Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, Etta James, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin, Adele, Janis Joplin, Anne Wilson, Beth Hart, Bessie Smith, and of course, Billie Holiday.  There can be a few more that you can pull from some other genres that could be classified in this group, but let’s just stay with these — but one in particular (and there’s a reason).  Billie Holiday, of these mentioned above had a very unique, subtle and peacefully smooth delivery that could still bring brilliant movement, mood and attention, and that is hard to do in my opinion.  You wouldn’t define her as smoky in vocal tone, just pure, and any music loved her vocal accompaniment.  The smoothness can often be misconstrued as safe, but we all know the range of this woman’s vocal, but it never had to truly reach an over-board approach to deliver to entice a listen or the fortunate audiences of the past.  Peaceful, less-attention seeking, humbling vocal pattern, but still stunning.  In today’s Unknown Sunday I give you Katie Melua as new example (although she has been around for two decades).  Why, you might ask?  Because it is not a beguiling voice.  It is smooth.  It is pure and possibly effortless sounding when you hear it.  And, when I first heard it, Billie Holiday was the first to come to mind.

“So here I am in London town,” was the first lyrical piece I ever heard from the jazz-blues soloist.  The record store was playing ‘Crawling Up A Hill’ (John Mayall cover) as the owner of the record store was a jazz lover, and he thought this was a vocal that should get some exposure.  He was usually right, so I went along, listening while perusing the catalogs.  The album, Call Off the Search (2003), was her debut album.  The next song had me!  ‘Closest Thing To Crazy’ had that throwback but beautiful touch of playful and beautiful with a slow jazz simplicity that just ached of Billie.  It also reminded me of Holly Cole, which I was already familiar with, and I was reaching a lot to contemporary jazz/blues female performers at the time, expanding my catalog.  You have to credit the great British songwriter and producer, Mike Batt, for his putting together of the record under his newly formed record label called Dramatico (Marianne Faithful, Jem, Sarah Blasko, and Within Temptation), realizing exactly the mojo and delivery of this voice, and when to use a classic or write something, which he did with ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy.’  Batt would do other albums by Katie Melua, and pretty much solidify her indie jazz and blues stardom, as the best and most popular releases under the label.

The say her voice is mezzo-soprano, well that’s oddly against the contralto that Billie Holiday is by definition.  I thinks it’s magnifico-impressive and a delight to hear in any fashion, but that title puts in her the midst of Adele, Midler, Beyonce, and Hudson (which is off comparisons in delivery).  All of those are over-the-top bombastic flamboyant singers, where Katie Melua doesn’t live in that environment.  Her vocal can seamlessly work in a solo piano setting, a improv jazz quartet, an indie driven ‘Moment of Madness’ or put in some rock and electronica oddity with ‘God on the Drums and Devil on the Bass’ (both from The House, which definitely had a few songs of prog-Bush-nature which was interesting for a fourth outing).  Her subtle, pureness just takes lyrics and pace to a wonderful place, and her ability to hang on a note for tone, melody and extension never feels forced or exacerbated for attention.  It is real.  I think that’s why when looking back and listening to catalog the flute is a magical accompaniment that shines very bright, among the other usual instruments, including how flawless the orchestral arrangements from Secret Symphony are, and there are some incredible covers like that of Ron Sexmith, Travis (the band), Elvis Presley, Randy Newman and Roy Orbison.

I came in at the beginning here, so it was easy to keep checking and purchasing the first three records from Call Off the Search to Piece By Piece (which has gone platinum in the UK over four times) to Pictures, which all shared that similarity of some ingenious, sincere covers, a couple with Melua and/or Batt.  But it was The House, where Melua would really start to take most of the writing credits.  The Georgian singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist would eventually move on from Batt to the more modern collaborator and producer Leo Abrahams, who has worked with Brian Eno (The Lovely Bones soundtrack), Star Sailor, Ed Harcourt, Goldfrapp, Regina Spektor, and even Paul Simon (instrumentals for the album, Surprise).  This also came during the divorce from her race car driver husband, James Toseland, which makes for an interestingly honest recording, and it was also done in an acoustic version as well.  Katie is also not afraid to reach beyond her comfort level, collaborating with Simon Goff, a British composer, producer and violinist based in Berlin on the album they call, Aerial Objects, which explores nature or man made places and they put music and vocal to.  Her 2023 album, Love & Money, seems to have her in happier place against the hurt and honesty emotions of the prior record, but when it comes to Melua’s delivery and vocal pureness she remains an indie album master.


She’s extremely successful in her home country, and has some credits beyond music that leak into the little known United States.  That’s right she was in  2007’s Grindhouse segment entitled, “Don’t” from Rodriguez and Tarantino, if you’re trying to place her.  But here’s a rather unique thing about her that I’m pretty sure that not too many artists in the entire music multiverse have, and that’s a Guiness Book of World Records title!  Yes, on 2 October 2006, Melua played the deepest underwater concert 303 metres below sea level on the Norwegian Statoil‘s Troll A platform in the North Sea. Now there’s a gig!


Now, there’s others that fall into this category of delivery that entrance, too.  But this is one that transcends a few genres and is not stuck by any means, and in fact, is one of the wealthiest female musicians in the UK that somehow fits our Unknown Sundays.  I hate to keep going back to it, but it’s always astounding to make these Sundays.  And I know, my friends across the pond will reply, “Unknown, really?”  They’re right, she shouldn’t be, but let’s truly face it, she is.  Just like the likes of Kat Edmonson, Jill Barber, Patricia Barber, against the Melody Gardot, Cassandra Wilson, and Diana Krall, Norah Jones of the world.  I will always go to Call Off the Search, but I’ll never call of the search for more musicians and voices like these throughout the music multiverse!

Albums by Katie Melua In My Collection

  • 2003:  Call Off the Search
  • 2005:  Piece By Piece
  • 2007:  Pictures
  • 2010:  The House
  • 2013:  Secret Symphony
  • 2013:  Ketevan


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