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There's no one way to define a great voice: Genius might lie in the phrasing, the range, the power, the control, the words themselves, or some sort of indescribable something else. But one way to diagnose genius for sure is to have a singer walk into a crowded room with little to no accompaniment, open his or her mouth, and command breathless attention in a matter of seconds.
A best-selling U.K. pop singer, Adele rocketed to fame a few years ago, alongside a handful of other soulful throwbacks. But unlike many other past recipients of the Best New Artist Grammy (Adele won the award in 2009), it's hard to imagine her fading from the public consciousness in the years to come; her voice is too pure, too charismatic. Witness this three-song Tiny Desk Concert at the NPR Music offices, wherein she belts out three songs — the heartbreaking ballad "Someone Like You," the ubiquitous hit "Chasing Pavements" and the first single from 21, "Rolling in the Deep" — with only the low-key accompaniment of keyboardist Miles Robertson and guitarist Ben Thomas.
Moments before performing, Adele breezed up to our makeshift stage with little fanfare, and proceeded to blaze through her set without so much as bothering to take off her gloves. Between songs, she showcased the mile-wide chasm between her mesmerizing singing voice and her far less polished speaking voice, occasionally even unleashing a truly magnificent cackle. At 22, Adele still isn't quite fully formed as an artist — which, after witnessing this set, is really saying something. She may well get even better, and even now, she's a marvel.
Michael Katzif (camera); edited by Bob Boilen; photo by Adele Hampton