He’s at home on the stage

James Morrison
James Morrison

James Morrison, Albert Hall, Manchester

I first caught James Morrison’s act at 53 Degrees in Preston on the back of Songs for You, Truths for Me in 2008.

That venue is no more but after a hiatus of his own Morrison is back and his pre-tour gig at Manchester Albert Hall to debut his fourth record proves he can still stand up against the UK’s male singer-songwriters of the moment

Reviews of Higher than Here have been lukewarm. It is definitely an evolved sound, Morrison describes it as refined, but with flickered sentiments of that soul-pop territory for which he is known and that catapulted him to the top of the charts with ‘You Give Me Something”

But it his live act where I have always found Morrison really holds his own with gritty, gutsy and soulful performances.

From the Michael Jackson inspired, soul-funk ‘Slave to the Music’ to a stripped back ‘Broken Strings’ , the smash hit duet with Nelly Furtado, which is much more rousing and effective than its pop radio-friendly counterpart.

It is this soundscape which really resonates well with a crowd, a hugely mixed one at that. And in a venue that played to his strengths

Morrison is at his best, stripped of the production, letting his vocals shine, although his band cannot not be faulted.

He is witty and engaging and a self-confessed ‘mushy dad.’ ‘Just Like a Child’ and ‘Something Right’ are both written for his daughter but are slightly more powerful than his previous ballads.

Morrison is honest and readily admits with ‘The Awakening’ which inspired ‘Won’t Let Go’ following the death of his father , he wasn’t in the place to hit it full on.

“Demons” is the first taste of the new record.It is one of the strongest tracks of the set with an auto-tune vocal interjecting throughout. It boasts a big beat, and a really raw, gritty vocal.

And it is this sound to what he refers as his change, he adds his experiment with production didn’t quite work as well as planned so it was back to the drawing board with the guitar with which he is most comfortable.

The result is a mix between the signature sounds of his old records but ever so slightly darker. Right, he says, where he wanted to be.

Higher than Here isn’t just a comeback record, it’s a collection of soulful songs, a little more edgy, some may say not edgy enough but ON stage, the shift is recognisable

If you have a love for live music, he is an act not to be missed.

Nicola Jaques