First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3
Written by John Metzger
Once Joss Stone hit it big with The Soul Sessions, the United Kingdom became ground zero in the major labelsí collective quest to sign young artists dabbling in classic R&B sounds. The latest prospect is James Morrison, a 21-year-old lad from Rugby whose debut Undiscovered sailed to the top of the U.K. charts thanks to the early support he received from fabled musician and talk show host Jools Holland. The good news is that Morrison is a great deal less cloying than last yearís phenomenon James Blunt was; the bad news is that his opening salvo merely alludes to his talents.
The problems with Undiscovered are twofold. For starters, the big-budget arrangements employed by producer Martin Terefe are completely unimaginative, and his usage of an assortment of orchestrations and organ fills as well as a gospel choir is too transparent in its bid to manufacture moods and feelings. Although Terefe attempts to temper the polish of his by-the-book, í70s-inspired soul motifs by embellishing them with the psychedelic strings (Under the Influence) and guitars (Call the Police) of The Beatles, his stylistic juxtapositions do little more than divert attention away from what should be the setís main attraction: Morrisonís voice.
Yet, even here, Undiscovered puzzlingly falls flat. Crossing Stevie Wonder with Amos Lee, Morrisonís vocals rise and fall in a predictable fashion. The constraints placed upon him by the surrounding music as well as the utterly generic material inevitably combine to drain the emotions away from his delivery. From time to time, hints of his raw power do manage to bubble to the surface. For example, thereís an unshakeable torment to the manner in which he sings The Pieces Donít Fit Anymore. On the albumís highlight Call the Police, he comes completely unhinged as he embraces a Rod Stewart-like growl that conveys a more dangerous air of angst and violence. For the most part, however, Morrison plays it safe, and while his detachment likely wonít hurt his short-term sales figures (or, for that matter, his labelís bottom line), it does undercut the authenticity of the hard- luck tale upon which his career, thus far, has been built. Ĺ
Undiscovered is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box