Maverick Sabre - Lonely Are the Brave
A maverick is defined as 'unorthodox' by nature and, listening to Lonely Are the Brave, that sense of originality and independence is only occasionally dulled by the nagging sense that we've heard this all before. The debut from 21 year-old Michael Stafford, aka Maverick Sabre, is a revelation if simply for the fact that the voice singing these songs has emerged from someone so young. However, while there are a lot of reasons to recommend this album, your enjoyment is likely to depend on your capacity for a genre combination - retro soul and urban contemporary - that has been doing the rounds of late.
It all starts off in rather grand fashion, with two quality singles that possess mainstream appeal and, when played back to back, showcase two different facets of Stafford's sound: 'I Need' is a credible ballad-with-beats that also serves to highlight the Irish youngster's distinct vocals, while 'Let Me Go' boasts a souped-up, brassy Motown chorus as the verses ride a trippy take on the same Isaac Hayes sample Portishead injected into 'Glory Box'. What ensues rarely matches this fine opening though, as Stafford's attempts to update vintage soul sounds with the tastes of today don't always work. Meanwhile, the heavy-handed 'Cold Game' establishes a lyrical interest in telling the street-level stories of the urban underdog; although Stafford's intentions are no doubt sincere, the likes of 'Sometimes' and 'Shootin' the Stars' can't help but feel clunky despite showcasing the Maverick's rapping skills.
Unfortunately, the shadow of Plan B can't help but loom large, given the dual nature of the record's sound. New single 'No One' exists in the same world lived in by Strickland Banks, and it's not the only cut that could have been pulled straight from Ben Drew's successful sophomore album. That doesn't make these songs any less appealing though and, for my money, Stafford has the better voice of the two. It's displayed to full effect on slow jams like 'I Used to Have it All' and a well-judged cover of Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come' (tailor-made for a showing on Jools Holland's show), and suggests Stafford should stick to the singing. Anyone doubting his potential should stick around for a hidden track, which bottles a raw live performance and marks him as an authentic talent. So, while Stafford may not truly be fulfilling the role of maverick just yet, he's got time on his side and a voice that could become timeless.