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LONDON (Billboard) - In recent years, female singer/songwriters such as Amy Winehouse, KT Tunstall and Corinne Bailey Rae have broken internationally out of the U.K. But the emerging class of 2008 suggest the trend has only just begun. Here are four artists to watch for.
"Scary but amazing" -- that's Kate Nash's description of America as she contemplates the U.S. release of her quirky piano-pop debut album, "Made of Bricks" (Geffen), January 8.
Nash became a pop phenomenon in the United Kingdom when her debut major-label single, "Foundations," spent five weeks at No. 2 in July and August.
"I still live at home and have my friends around me," says Nash, an excitable and talkative 20-year-old from north London. "I'm not really interested in fame and celebrities."
Jim Chancellor, head of Nash's U.K. label, Fiction, says he signed an "exciting and talented young lady who's quite a poet," and Nash has repaid his faith. "Made of Bricks" was moved up seven weeks to capitalize on the success of "Foundations."
Chancellor says Fiction would have "missed our moment" if it hadn't scrapped the existing campaign -- and was proved right when it debuted at No. 1 in August. It has now shipped 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom and a further 100,000 in Europe, according to the label.
In the States, the "Foundations" EP, released in September, peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Singles Sales chart and Nash played three New York shows in September. "I thought, are these people thinking, what's this weird English girl talking about?" she says with a laugh. "But it went down really well."
Universal U.K. director of international marketing Greg Stafford says key U.S. press, from Teen Vogue to the New York Times, "have come onboard early . . .There is a real expectation." Nash returns to North America for promotion and four dates starting January 7 in Toronto, with "Foundations" serviced to radio just before Christmas. A full U.S. tour is planned for April and May. The album will be released in January in Australia, where Nash will appear at Big Day Out, Down Under's biggest traveling festival.
Amy Macdonald's U.K. breakthrough has already earned her comparisons to major artists like fellow Scot KT Tunstall.
"I'm always going to take it as a compliment because I'm being compared to some of the most successful women in music," she says with a grin. "But we all have our different sound."
And though Macdonald is on track for global success, the 20-year-old Glaswegian singer/songwriter is still proud of her Scottish roots.
"People are always really behind me in Scotland," she says. Her debut album, "This Is the Life" (Vertigo/Mercury), went to No. 2 in the United Kingdom and No. 1 in Scotland.
"We marketed the album really well in Scotland," Mercury U.K. president Jason Iley says. "We really showed how Amy was home-grown."
He also credits digital campaigns on Bebo and MySpace with building sales, but adds, "It's a multifaceted campaign where every area has strategically worked together and succeeded."
Iley says the album has now reached U.K. shipments of 260,000, and predicts an eventual total of 500,000 U.K. sales, with fourth single "Run" due to be released early next year. He says the record is taking off in Europe with 50,000 shipments after a support slot with Paul Weller in Germany, Holland and Belgium, and key TV appearances in France. A headlining European tour is penciled in for March, after 15 U.K. dates.
American audiences will discover Macdonald next year. She will play a New York showcase in April for her U.S. label Mercury, ahead of a planned summer release for "This Is the Life."
"I've worked hard at this for the past five years of my life," Macdonald says. "The good thing is that people feel they've discovered me for themselves."
Just 19, jazz and soul-steeped Londoner Adele Adkins (who uses only her first name) has already employed a musical education ranging from Dusty Springfield to Jeff Buckley to become a hot new property for XL Recordings.
On the heels of the limited edition "Hometown Glory" last October, Adele's single "Chasing Pavements" is set for release January 21 in the United Kingdom, a week before her first album, "19," hit the streets. The collection features "Cold Shoulder," a collaboration with U.K. producer du jour Mark Ronson, and Adele already has widespread press support and radio play at BBC Radios 1 and 2. On December 10, Adele was named the winner of the inaugural BRIT Awards Critics Choice prize for new acts, and will perform at the nationally televised gala February 20.
"I'm inspired by American artists, and I learned to sing by listening to Etta James," she says. "But I also loved (U.K. pop/soul singer) Gabrielle. It was a real mix, and that's how the album is."
Adele attended the BRIT School in south London ("I got to listen to music every day and (received) a qualification at the end") and attracted industry interest after developing a MySpace page. She signed a worldwide deal with XL in November 2006.
"I signed a good deal, but not one of these stupidly big ones," she says, "and my publishing (with Universal Music) was sensible. I don't see the point in taking loads of money (as an advance), because you'll never start seeing money in your pocket."
Label CEO Richard Russell says Adele is "in a tradition of artists who know exactly what they want -- incredibly focused and quick to tell you which of your ideas are rubbish." He says "19" will be released in the United States on XL "perhaps as early as April, perhaps as late as June (or) July."
Great things are expected of Amy Ann Duffy, who goes by only her last name. Before she has even released a record, the Welsh 22-year-old with the stunning 1960s-style soul voice and the utterly contemporary pop songs has already been called "the sound of 2008" by the London Evening Standard.
Universal Music operations president David Joseph calls her debut album, "Rockferry" (A&M/Polydor), "a classic album by a contemporary artist."
U.K. media have been falling over themselves to get involved. Her limited edition vinyl/download single, also called "Rockferry," in November was added to the playlist at BBC Radios 1 and 2, and she's one of the few artists to appear on tastemaking TV show "Later . . . With Jools Holland" before a release.
"I can only remember that happening with Mika and James Morrison," Universal VP of international marketing Hassan Choudhury says. "And they both went on to sell millions of records."
All the attention is in stark contrast to Duffy's "traditional Welsh Sunday-school upbringing."
"It feels very weird being public about my music," she says. "When I was a kid, I never felt I could tell anyone that I wanted to sing, so I kept it to myself."
That's unlikely to be an option for much longer. Her first U.K. single "Mercy" is due for release February 25, with the album following a week later. She will play a residency in January and February at London's Pigalle Club, with key international media being flown in, and will showcase in early 2008 in Europe ahead of an international album rollout in April. Choudhury says there have been "phenomenal reactions" from across the world, "which normally means you have a huge global star on your hands."
Duffy herself is most looking forward to the U.S. release, also in April, and her first official stateside promotional trip in January.
"I can't wait to go to Detroit, Memphis, the Motown studios, Al Green's church," she says. "America is where soul began, and where it is right now."