“I don’t wanna be misunderstood,” sings James Morrison. “I’ve got to take this chance and make it into something good.” There’s a sense of urgency the 22-year-old U.K. singer/songwriter brings to the music on his debut Interscope Records album ‘Undiscovered’ that suggests it won’t take fans very long to find him.
No less a legend than Atlantic Records producer and co-founder Jerry Wexler said Morrison (who as a baby, he had a terrible whooping cough, which may have left him with scarred vocal chords) has a voice “with its own thumbprint. Hear it once and you’ll forever recognize it.”
That’s no small praise for a man who’s worked with soul greats Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, who knows a great set of pipes when he hears them, and Morrison’s voice is said to hit you instantly. It is described as a harsh, yet soothing plaint that recalls both Rod Stewart in his Gasoline Alley prime and Joe Cocker in the aptly titled “Under the Influence,” the romantic Stevie Wonder on “You Give Me Something,” the Bob Seger of “Night Moves” in “Undiscovered,” John Lennon in the violent, gnarled “(I Want You) She’s So Heavy” blues of “Call the Police,” and Charles himself on the confessional “If the Rain Must Fall.”
Indeed, Morrison has more than been discovered in his native Britain and Europe and could be considered a conquering hero. His album debuted at #1 on the U.K. charts, remaining there for several weeks, selling over 600,000 copies (and over 1 million worldwide) on the strength of a pair of Top 5 hits in the first single, “You Give Me Something” and “Wonderful World” – an ear-opening dark yin to the yang of Louis Armstrong’s original, in which Morrison reveals: “And I know that it’s a wonderful world/But I can’t feel it right now.”
After a poverty-stricken upbringing as the middle son of a single mother, who struggled with her own demons to keep a shelter over her children’s head and food in their mouths, Morrison is said to take his current success with a grain of salt. The singer/songwriter taps his troubled childhood in several of the songs, including the moving “This Boy,” where he tries to “forgive and forget” telling his mom to “know that my arms are wide open.”
He has said his childhood was surrounded by music from an early age, whether it was listening to his mum’s collection, which included Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, to being turned on to guitar at 13 by an uncle, immersing himself in Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
“Everybody has it hard growing up,” he says. “I’m not saying I had it any worse than anybody else. But most of the emotion in my singing has come from my upbringing.”
“Once you’ve had a taste of it, there’s no going back,” he sings in “Under the Influence,” with its psychedelic Traffic blues vibe, an apt description of how he discovered his musical talent even if it refers to an addictive romance.
A demo CD he recorded with some borrowed music equipment fell into the hands of a one-time A&R man, who promptly got him a deal with Polydor U.K. (Interscope’s sister label) Morrison entered a West London studio with producer Martin Terefe (KT Tunstall, Ron Sexsmith, Ed Harcourt) and the rest is U.K. chart history.
‘Undiscovered’ is now available at Amazon. Visit the music database for more information.