James Morrison - The Awakening
When it comes to chart-friendly male singer/songwriters called James who were big news back in 2006, I have a soft spot for James Morrison. Sure, I can't name a single album track from either of his first two studio albums (despite Mommy McNaney playing them tirelessly) but those singles, from 'Undiscovered' to 'You Make it Real', hinted at something approaching soul and placed Blunt in the dust. With third major label album The Awakening, Morrison aims for a more mature sound that's in debt to greats such as Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder; the move follows frank interviews in which he has expressed displeasure with his sophomore release and, while this is no What's Going On, Morrison's belief in bettering himself has resulted in a better album.
Thanks to production from increasingly prolific Bernard Butler, the production is still expansive but more organic than the excessively polished Songs For You, Truths For Me, which threatened to drown Morrison's best feature: that gravelly, soulful voice. He once again sounds great, a less mournful Ray Lamontagne perhaps, and never fails to lift songs concerned with the same ol' Big Themes such as love, death and heartbreak. The loss of his father and resulting relationship conflicts provide some real emotional heft on the anguished yet hopeful 'Right By Your Side' and suggests Morrison could reach the same mega-stardom levels of female mainstream soul equivalent Adele, if only he tapped into his heart-on-sleeve mode so freely at all times. However, this is the least safe he's played it so far and places Morrison alongside Paolo Nutini as a contemporary UK male solo star who has gone some way to proving their worth following lightweight earlier efforts. One day he might even surprise us with a classic album.