First Impressions: The Awakening Of James Morrison

Monday, September 26, 2011

While there are more flashier artists out there who attempt to follow in a conga line of imitators, James Morrison is on the other side of the floor doing the waltz, and dancing circles around everyone else---content that he's the 'honest Abe' of the British pop-soul market. This works in his favor as Morrison knows his audience and knows that they crave his throwback to the singer/songwriters of the 70's and how he fixes it for Gen-Y ears without sounding like he's going for a novelty record. For his third installment, The Awakening, Morrison sticks to the formula that made his previous albums, 2007's Undiscovered and 2008's Songs For You, Truths For Me such aural pleasures. Just this time out, the songs are moodier, nothing is tightly tied or polished up, and Morrison's rasp is even edgier than previous. The album is really unlike the brazen Soulsville workouts that littered his first two records, and that is the album's upside as well as it's downside.

As much as Morrison has tweaked his sound a bit, he still keeps on the middle of the road, not really straying out of bounds or really seeing how he can go past the safety of his soul influence backyard. You get the sense he's continuing to channel a blend of Stevie Wonder here, a bit of Van Morrison there--and due to his unique honey soaked raspy drawl--a hefty dose of Rod Stewart. Yet unlike his contemporaries he doesn't let these influences really hinder him to where he sounds like a total carbon copy. Still, Morrison doesn't really have anything new to say, and in some moments on The Awakening, you can never tell where one song ended and where the other began. These are the moments where you want him to take off, but he remains circling around the runway and being just 'okay', like a male version of Joss Stone.

Still to his benefit, and like Stone herself, he does spark some magic and indulge a bit---this is where the good stuff happens.

He really indulges when he hits the title track, stepping into a Joe Cocker or Steve Winwood stance and carries the tradition, and like he claims in the track, it is the 'first time where he feels alive' as he does even though the track is . Another 'alive' moment is the quasi-funk of "Slave To The Music" which sounds a bit hokey on paper, but really plays like a shuffling love letter to the lady that they call music to where it will 'keep you rocking and moving' like the song suggests.

Britain's wild child Jessie J makes her presence known on "Up" just this time she's acting like she graduated from charm school as the sound environment Morrison has set up is where she belongs vocally---and not what she tried to pass off on her debut, this year's Who You Are. She steals the show on the track, but not for long as Morrison returns in flight with his the Wonder-ful homage, "Person I Should Have Been" and the single, "I Won't Let You Go", which is beautifully constructed and sung and should be on every love-lorn listeners playlist. These are the moments where Morrison does sound varying and almost provocative.

Even though The Awakening as a whole package is borderline of being a plastic fruit bowl of sounds (pretty to look at, but you can't really savor it), Morrison woos you with his voice and his honest passion for music---that's what makes you stay. He's got one of the best voices in music currently, but albums can't be carried on voices alone and in Morrison's case it should be wrapped around better and less formulaic material. Still The Awakening is an album to enjoy for it's simplicity and it's melodic lushness. For a zen moment, Morrison and his Awakening works it like a charm.

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Release Date: September 26, 2011 (UK) | October 4, 2011 (US)

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