Diminutive singer-songwriter KT Tunstall is the latest in a long line of decade-in-the-making overnight successes to be imported from across the Pond. That combination of hardscrabble experience and look-ma-I-made-it giddiness dovetailed into a positively charming Gotham gig on Tuesday night.
Backed by a spare rhythm section — drummer Luke Bullen pared his kit back to its bare bones — Tunstall afforded herself few sonic hiding places. By and large, she didn’t need any: Her guitar-playing, while far from flashy, had a languid charm, perhaps best showcased on the jazzy “Miniature Disasters.”
The Scottish-bred Tunstall splits the difference between rustic folksiness and art-school assaying, usually weaving the two together seamlessly, as on lilting opener “Another Place to Fall.”
She was actually even more effective when she dispensed with the fancy stuff to let loose with stream-of-consciousness Celtic soul — like the gripping “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” — reminiscent of Van Morrison’s more homespun work.
Much as on her upcoming Stateside debut “Eye to the Telescope” — out Feb. 7 from Virgin — Tunstall forged a much stronger connection during those moments than she did when waxing coquettish and lapsing into by-the-book romantic cliche. She’s clearly got enough gumption to get by without such crutches, and her voice — at its best, a throaty purr that’s as seductive as a dry martini on a wet night — isn’t well served by songs that require her to trot out a predictable, Sarah McLachlan-esque trill.
Fortunately, Tunstall kept the sugar and spice to a minimum during this compact perf, giving the impression that she’s found her artistic voice. Now she needs to develop a willingness to use that voice consistently.