For a 24-year-old, British singer-songwriter Katie Melua certainly has no shortage of career milestones. In addition to her more than 10 million albums sold, the Georgia-born (as in Eastern Europe) performer has headlined London's massive Wembley Stadium, released a U.K. chart-topping duet with a deceased American singer, and even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the deepest underwater concert after performing on the bottom of the North Sea for some Norwegian gas rig workers. (Don't ask.)
Melua was Europe's biggest-selling solo female artist before she even turned 21. But for all her headline-making stardom across the Big Pond, the silken-voiced singer remains a relatively unknown word-of-mouth favorite in the United States. Which is precisely why she's bringing her first-ever solo acoustic tour to small venues such as the Tin Angel, where she'll perform Saturday night.
"I love the diversity of being able to do much smaller gigs in the States," the soft-spoken singer said by phone. But even by her own scaled-down standards, this tour is "really quite different and new for me - it's just me and a guitar and a keyboard."
While "a bit nervous" about the inherent intimacy of these hear-a-pin-drop solo gigs, Melua says she also is excited about "telling these musical stories well" in an unadorned setting.
"I don't believe in vocal acrobatics; it's about the feeling - and just being up there alone, there's no hiding from the feeling in these songs," she said.
A British citizen for the last four years, Melua has been a star in the U.K. since age 19, when producer/songwriter Mike Batt took direction of her career. He has written many of her biggest hits and has produced all three of her albums, including the latest, Pictures, which came out in the U.K. in 2007 and here last month.
While frequently compared to Norah Jones and Diana Krall, Melua's often-wistful music is neither as bluesy as Jones' nor as jazzy as Krall's, having more in common sonically with melancholic idols Leonard Cohen (whose grim and beautiful "In My Secret Life" she artfully tackles on the new album) and the late Eva Cassidy, whose spliced-in duet of "What a Wonderful World" with Melua became a fund-raising chart-topper in England recently.
"I feel like I've been on a journey for a long time, but I still have so many new things I want to try," Melua said. "It's all been quite fantastic so far."