Katie Melua, "The House"

77 Billboard Rating

After three albums that established her as a successful British female artist, no one can blame Katie Melua for staying the course. On her new album, "The House," Melua changes up dramatically, parting amicably with longtime collaborator Mike Batt and enlisting new producer William Orbit (Madonna, Blur) and such new writing partners as Guy Chambers, Rick Nowels and Lauren Christy. The ambient, moody specter of Kate Bush and Tori Amos hangs over these dozen tracks, to good effect. There's a madrigal touch on the sinister opening track, "I'd Love to Kill You"; an Eastern flavor for the first single, "The Flood"; and a burlesque pomp to "A Moment of Madness." "Plague of Love," "God on the Drums, Devil on the Bass" and "Twisted" are among the most forceful tracks Melua has ever recorded, while she brings a regal air to the bluesy folk treatment of Bill Monroe's "The One I Love Is Gone." With sophisticated grace and evocative lyricism, Melua has made a brave reinvention that raises her already lofty artistic bar.