Pop fans who can’t get enough of sensitive male singer-songwriters mystified by the little mysteries of love should rejoice over the arrival of 24-year-old Irish phenom Gavin James. His American debut introduces an unabashed romantic with a big, plaintive voice built to evoke tears and warm tender hearts. James is overly familiar with his robust balladry and breezy pop, but the soulful melancholy here can be eminently engaging, even when lathered in sentimentality. There are intimations of Ed Sheeran and Chris Martin; on “22,” haunted by dramatic “rainy afternoons,” James reaches for Adele’s grandiose catharsis. He’s studied his poets carefully (“I wish I was older when I was young/but half the world’s asleep”) without fully mastering his craft yet. One of the vocalist’s gifts is the ability to gracefully sing lines like “scared ourselves to death on a ghost train” with a straight face. It’s unfortunate the production frequently goes broad with stirring strings and lush harmonies, when he’s clearly more affecting with a less embroidered approach (“Hole in My Heart”).
ESSENTIAL “Hole in My Heart”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.