Juan Zelada

High Ceilings & Collarbones

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Born and raised in Madrid and based in London, having previously relocated to Hong Kong and graduated from Paul McCartney's LIPA school, singer/songwriter Juan Zelada had quite the journey before becoming a staple of the Radio 2 playlist. Not that you'd know it from his debut album, High Ceilings & Collarbones, which ignores the sounds of his globe-trotting background in favor of a polished and resolutely old-fashioned AOR sound inspired by the likes of Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and James Taylor. Co-produced with Matt Lawrence (Ellie Goulding, James Morrison), the majority of its 12 tracks sound instantly familiar, largely thanks to Zelada's warm inviting voice, which floats between the smoothness of John Mayer and the raspy soulfulness of Rob Thomas against a backdrop of warm acoustics and jaunty brass arrangements tailor-made for a lazy Sunday morning. It all makes for a very pleasant listen, particularly on the harmony-laden West Coast country-rock of "Baby Be Mine" and the breezy blues of "Breakfast in Spitalfields." But other than the angular guitar riffs and funky basslines of the indie rock-tinged "Elsewhere" and the Graceland-esque reggae-pop of "Barman," there's little here that rises above mere dinner party fodder. Indeed, after a promising first half which manages to wring some mileage out of the well-worn formula, the second is a disappointingly flat and pedestrian affair with only the introspective "The Boy with the Television On," apparently written after an encounter in the foothills of Nepal, making any lasting impression from the queue of stripped-back inoffensive ballads. High Ceilings & Collarbones is an undeniably classy and quietly charming first offering, but it's not distinctive enough to make itself heard above the mountain of similarly gentle fare.

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