Way back in January 2011 (relative eons in pop music terms), 21-year-old singer-songwriter Delilah burst onto the UK music scene, seemingly from nowhere, with a show-stopping vocal performance on Chase & Status‘ “Time.” A powerhouse Drum and Bass track buried at the end of their sophmore album No More Idols (it would eventually become the album’s fifth single), “Time” is arguably the best song in Chase & Status’s substantial catalogue, in no small part thanks to Delilah and collaborator Plan B‘s brilliant songwriting.

Having been signed to Atlantic since the tender age of 17, Delilah (real name Paloma Stoecker) followed up her appearance on “Time” by dropping her first single “Go” last summer. With an intelligent interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan‘s classic “Ain’t Nobody” (which Khan herself reportedly described as “genius”), Delilah’s smoldering, sexually-charged debut caught the attention of BBC Radio 1 and stormed to #17 in the UK Charts — a significant achievement for a brand new artist on her debut single (which, incidentally, was produced by an outfit with no mainstream previous themselves either).

“Go” set the bar high, both artistically and commercially. It remains the highlight of From The Roots Up and is appropriately positioned as the centrepiece on an album that sees Delilah flit between seductive and vulnerable — at times, both — at various points, over production that, for the most part, sounds entirely unlike anything in the mainstream today. Whether on the album’s opener “Never Be Another” (which owes debts to Aaliyah‘s Timbaland-produced “Are You Feeling Me“) or the relatively minimalist third single “Breathe” (penned by Delilah when she was just 14), the album is at its best when offering up soundscapes that sound miles apart from pop’s modern-day norm.

The rare stumbles come when Delilah flirts with more conventional fare. Even these consecutive so-called failures are relative — she just about navigates the breezy, upbeat pop of “Only You,” whilst the well-written “Shades of Grey” sounds shy and timid in comparison to the singles that preceded it.

Delilah’s much-talked-about cover of Minnie Ripperton‘s seminal soul classic “Inside My Love,” the album’s most controversial moment, follows the relative calm of the aforementioned two tracks. Miraculously, perhaps encouraged by Mikey J‘s slinky modern production, the 21-year-old is able to sex up an already infamously suggestive song. It’s a brilliant cover, paying tribute to the original without being intimidated by it, and Delilah is one of the few vocalists with the tone to do Ripperton’s version justice. As with “Go,” the unblushing sexuality is perhaps slightly overwrought, but is balanced throughout with just enough vulnerability to stop the descent into uncomfortable audio porn.

If anything, Delilah perhaps does open and honest better than she does sexy. She’s painfully exposed on “Insecure,” supported by barely-there production, but it’s “21” and “Tabitha, Mummy and Me” that are the most deeply personal; she tears through the latter in particular, bouncing between remarkably controlled and ever-so-slightly unhinged in a stunning vocal performance. There’s been some suggestion that she lacks some undefinable soul-like quality, but in reality Delilah emotes on a level far more advanced than some of her more mawkish, show pony peers.

From The Roots Up is a genuinely impressive debut album from a young lady able to write with honesty and vulnerability and blessed with the breathtaking voice to deliver that material sincerely. Whether playing the enticing temptress or singing about loss, pain and regret, Delilah is entirely believable here. Her voice will inevitably receive all the plaudits. Powerful, versatile and unique, it serves as the ultimate vehicle for some outstanding songs on this daring, accomplished body of work. 

It remains to be seen whether she’ll stay the distance in a modern-day golden era for British female artists, but by delivering a debut album that actually lives up to all of the hype and promise, Delilah has already done what many of her peers couldn’t.

Delilah – From The Roots Up
Released: July 27, 2012
Label: Warner Music
Buy: iTunes UK / Amazon / Amazon UK