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James Morrison

With a soul husk reminiscent of his heroes STEVIE WONDER, SAM COOKE and OTIS REDDING; or indeed RAY LaMONTAGNE and, dare one say it, TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY, the young, gifted and white Englishman JAMES MORRISON found fame almost overnight. In the summer of 2006 when his wondrous `You Give Me Something’ raced up to No.5 in the charts, the 21 year-old singer-songwriter was rivalling the likes of fellow fresh faces, PAOLO NUTINI and DANIEL POWTER. From then on in, young James chalked up a handful of best-selling albums; including two multi-platinum chart-toppers, `Undiscovered’ and `The Awakening’.
Born James Morrison Catchpole, 13 August 1984, Rugby, Warwickshire, his poor and admittedly grim childhood was a consequence of contracting whooping cough when only a few weeks old and the divorce of his music-loving parents when he was only four. Struggling with self esteem issues at school, James finally found his niche when singing the soul classics his mother had listened to in her youth; his father loved folk, blues & country music (VAN MORRISON among his collection), that was the impetus to James’s moniker. Relocating north from the Cornish coast, to the Midlands (Derby to be exact), a mixture of casual jobs were gratefully countered by open mic turns twice a week down at Irish bar Ryan’s. Gleaning encouragement from local advocate Ben Wilson, the young soul man was introduced to producer Kevin Wilson (co-scribe of `One Last Chance’ with SIMPLY RED’s Tim Kellett), whose further positivity led to his protégé signing to Polydor Records. JAMES MORRISON never looked back and was one of a rare breed of singer-songwriters to crossover commercially into the States, where Interscope endorsed his contract.
The aptly-titled UNDISCOVERED (2006) {*8} comprised a baker’s dozen of original tracks (mainly collaborations); one of them James’s aforesaid semi-classic signature tune, and others such as Top 10 gemstone, `Wonderful World’, Top 30 addition `The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore’ and the title track. Described as polite soul-pop by some in the media, MORRISON’s inner anguish and heart-rending soul manifested by way of `Call The Police’, `The Last Goodbye’ and closing cut, `Better Man’. Nonetheless, this record established MORRISON as a bona fide major talent, and his blueprint of what was to come. A tour supporting up-and-coming star CORINNE BAILEY RAE proved he’d ventured a long way in such a short space of time.
With his wife Gina pregnant and about to give birth to daughter Elise, 2008 was as best a time as any to get back on track. `You Make It Real’ catapulted James back into the Top 10, while “parent” album (one could say), SONGS FOR YOU, TRUTHS FOR ME {*6}, had all the hallmarks of that difficult-second-set syndrome; The Guardian gave it one star out of five (The Times 2/5), possibly resulting in “murdered-by-media” Top 3 sales figures. Both MORRISON and “I’m Like A Bird” star NELLY FURTADO duly had the last laugh when `Broken Strings’ almost hit the top spot.
Switching allegiances to Island Records for the `I Won’t Let You Go’ hit; spawned from THE AWAKENING (2011) {*6} third set, bittersweet balladeer MORRISON toasted his return to numero uno, putting it down to the easy-going production values of ex-SUEDE guitarist BERNARD BUTLER. A collaboration with JESSIE J, `Up’, continued the twitchy spate of Top 30 breakers, but basically James – who was in fact writing songs relating to his recently-departed alcoholic dad – was beginning to have that dreaded Marmite effect on reviewers, who saw his soft-shoe soul-stirring as grating, dated and bland. Coming at a time when James was very vulnerable, the un-constructive criticism must’ve hurt him to the quick. For a multi-talented artist with such a powerful soul voice; and still only in his mid-20s, it was indeed a time to reflect on other things rather than music: e.g. his family et al.
Four long years in the making and now in competition with similar singer-songwriting stars (JACK SAVORETTI, ED SHEERAN, SAM SMITH, JAMES BAY and HOZIER among the best in the country), 2015’s HIGHER THAN HERE {*5} disappointed even some of James’s most ardent of fans. MORRISON was trying hard to fit in to a funkier groove, and instead of satisfying his purist soul heart, he incorporated hip hop and folk into his once-austere repertoire. The result was very disappointing Top 10-only sales for the fourth set and a lack of commercial interest for download drops, `Demons’ and `Just Like A Child’; on reflection maybe the danceable `I Need You Tonight’ (penned with CHER “Believe”-ers Mark Taylor & Paul Barry) or the up-tempo `Right Here’ might’ve been better choices. Instead of switching labels, James found himself out in the cold after Island unceremoniously dumped him.
Another four long years and a severe crew-cut (he’d founded his own Stanley Park imprint in the meantime), MORRISON clawed back some of his faith-fuelled melancholy soul-pop roots for YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU KNOW (2019) {*7}. This fifth set saw him teaming up with fellow out-of-the-loop, blue-eyed soul-stirrer JOSS STONE on opener `My Love Goes On’. But his lowest sales yet (hp#14) couldn’t counter his cathartic cues; cues that came thick and fast through retrospective “Wonders” or mildly-Motown movers, `Feels Like The First Time’, `Power’ and Slowly’.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul2019

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