James Morrison drizzles his velvety-as-butter voice all over each of the 12 songs on The Awakening, his most recent foray into contemporary soul, where the balance between the cheerful and the cheesy works more often than not. The record does come off lovably enough as a cautious celebration of life and love, never sounding dishonest, and, while most of the criticism can be lobbed at the too-polished production, there is great charm to be found in Morrison’s optimistic delivery.
The smooth sounds of Motown that Morrison adores (and tries to homage) are laced throughout the album, veering from obligatory soulful dance numbers (“Slave To The Music”) to heartfelt, hotel lobby evening ballads (“In My Dreams”). Every one of Morrison’s tunes includes a string section cropping up from time to time, deviating between the last dance at your uncle’s wedding in double time and mysterious salsa textures, and on several songs like “Forever” the compressed soul sound of the effected guitars reaches beyond K-Mart kitsch. Leave it to numbers like the titular song and “Person I Should’ve Been” to exemplify where these aspects all fit in perfect place – the former being the highest point on the record, where the muted guitars, keyboards, and strings all carry Morrison’s voice and message of love and rebirth over a commendable flow.
If Morrison were to jam-pack his strong suits – tender acoustic rhythm and worldly celebrations of life and emotion – with more experimentation, he would undoubtedly have his best work yet hidden up his hunky white T-shirt sleeves.
Essential Tracks: “Person I Should’ve Been”, “The Awakening”