James Morrison's first two albums – Undiscovered (2006) and Songs for You, Truths for Me (2008) – have sold a combined total of 4.5m copies and yielded an astonishing ten singles, including 'You Give Me Something', 'Wonderful World', 'The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymor'e and the global smash 'Broken Strings', featuring Nelly Furtado. These albums and hits turned Morrison into an international star.
He has sold out arena tours, gigged coast-to-coast in America as well as in Australia, Japan and across Europe; he has performed on Jimmy Kimmel’s and Jay Leno’s TV shows in the States; sung in front of tens of thousands at London’s Hyde Park supporting both Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder; appeared on Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning album The Imagination Project – singing a widely acclaimed cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come; he has been voted Best Male at the 2007 Brit Awards; and – at just 21 – was the biggest-selling British male solo artist the year his debut album, Undiscovered, came out.
Everything was new then – co-writing songs, recording professionally, adjusting to being in the public eye. “It was an amazing opportunity, obviously, but at the same time I found it hard living up to being the person that people thought I was. I kept getting: ‘Ahh, James Morrison – he’s so romantic.’ And I didn’t think I was that kind of guy. I wasn’t trying to write songs to get the girls. That’s not me at all! But I loved touring, playing live – that was the side that really made me believe in what I was doing.”
His third album, The Awakening, has turned out to be the album that James Morrison always had the potential to make – at last a worthy platform for his extraordinary singing voice. “This time I wasn’t worrying about success at all, and that’s why it was really enjoyable. I didn’t feel I had to go for the big, loud notes all the time – I just sat back and sang how I felt and it all just came flooding out.”
The Awakening is a warm, live-sounding collection of classic but contemporary folk-soul songs. There are musical similarities with Morrison’s debut, but with added panache and self-belief. There are soaring strings, uplifting harmonies, soulful ballads and, in Slave to the Music, a hand-clapping dancefloor groover – a new string to his bow. There are nods to Motown, gospel, country and a hint of Latin. Technically, Morrison remains one of the finest white soul singers, equal parts Stevie Wonder and Paul Young. But he is more than just a Big Voice – he sings from the heart. “To me, pop music is just great music that lasts for years,” he says. “Though there is the other side of pop, which is where you have a hit, but then, after it comes out, it never gets heard again. I never wanted to make that sort of music.”