NPR logo Which Belter Is Better? It's A Cinch.

Which Belter Is Better? It's A Cinch.

Full SXSW Coverage for Live Concerts and Exclusive Performances

For the past few years, it seems a new female soul singer is crowned at SXSW. Almost without exception, the hype builds up around a white woman from the Commonwealth. Amy Winehouse, of course, and Duffy are obvious examples, with Sharon Jones as the welcome exception.

This year, please let it be Alice Russell. The shaggy blonde from Brighton bounded around onstage last night at Maggie Mae's rooftop in a sparkly black dress and cobalt tights — voice booming like a cannon, utterly unpretentious, and forging, note by ringing note, a pure, unforced connection with her band and audience. With a big helping of saucy on the side.

Russell could get lapped by Gabriella Cilmi, a modelly Australian 17 year old with big, throaty pipes, obvious mainstream appeal and a limited imagination. (Her cover of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" last night beautifully illustrated all three.) Cilmi's publicist says she's booked for a few talk show appearances next week. But boy, I hope a booker or two was in Alice Russell's crowd last night when the power went off in the middle of her exuberant set. It seemed almost plausible that she had overwhelmed the grid. But Russell is a giver, not a taker, and she kept her crowd dancing, shine undiminished by darkness. When the lights blew back on, it seemed almost an excess of electricity.