James Morrison may be considered as one of the U.K.'s premier soul talents, but the Warwickshire singer appears to have a bit of a downer on his career of late, having recently stated that he's "sung too many love ballads," and that he hated making his last album, Songs for You, Truths for Me, after being pressured by his former Polydor label to repeat the formula of his million-selling debut. With several songs relating to his alcoholic father's death on his third effort, The Awakening, the husky-voiced guitarist appears to have rectified one of his issues, but despite the presence of Suede's Bernard Butler as producer, it's difficult to hear how he's made any attempt to deal with the other. Seemingly designed to make Radio 2 listeners hearts flutter, "I Won't Let You Go" follows the same heartfelt, acoustic, tearjerker template as his previous two lead singles; the toe-tapping Motown pastiches "Beautiful Life" and "Forever" show that Morrison's retro leanings are still very much apparent; while there's even a "Broken Strings"-style duet with Jessie J on the orchestral, midtempo "Up." Pleasantly inoffensive and lushly produced as they are, they don't exactly live up to the radical reinvention that his rather dismissive comments indicated, and it's only on the funky R&B beats and Michael Jackson-esque chorus of "Slave to the Music," and the sparse, gospel-tinged blues of "Right by Your Side," where Morrison begins to show some of the invention that was allegedly so heavily restricted on his previous effort. However, lyrically, he's never been better, with the heartbreaking themes of loss on "In My Dreams," "6 Weeks," and "Person I Should Have Been," the latter based on a poem inspired by the last conversation he had with his late father, more than fulfilling his ambitions of "wanting to go a bit deeper and find more substance." But until Morrison manages to infuse some of this raw honesty and emotion into his sound, he's always going to struggle to create that one great record that his impassioned and soulful voice deserves.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien