Concert review: James Morrison (Video)

VIENNA, Va., May 24, 2012 – Despite his age, James Morrison, has been on the pop music radar for quite some time now. The singer/songwriter got his big break just short of age 22 when he released his debut album Undiscovered in 2006. A scant five months later, sales of the album eclipsed over one million copies in England.

It’s an odd thing to say, but having that much success at a young age, especially in the unexpected way Morrison did, can sometimes have a limiting effect on a performer. Being thrust into the spotlight around the time a musician is just trying to figure things out, can easily put him into a box artistically. Ever since the debut of that first stunningly successful album, Morrison has been working to balance popularity, demands from various corners, and trying to branch out further musically.

This is the kind of attitude he brought to the 9:30 Club for his show last Wednesday night.

Morrison has made several statements recently about his growth as an artist and the struggle to not limit himself by directly following in the path of his previous work. His artistic trajectory is not something that might be readily apparent in his live set, but it was visible throughout the evening, enhanced by the kind of diverse on stage posse that’s not something normally encountered in live shows.

With artists who have been on the scene as long as Morrison, it’s not too difficult to watch their development as they move through their set, growing pains and all. When most musicians who hit it big by the time they get to where Morrison is now, it usually signifies their first break. An artist’s self concept is usually fully formed by this point, and he’s able to work out the kinks in private, instead of being continually regarded as a promising work in progress. But Morrison is different. He has been in the limelight his entire career.

There are a lot of things going on during Morrison’s performance, from his band to the back-up singers, demonstrating he’s trying a lot of different things on stage, all of which he’s attempting to balance. It’s a sign that Morrison still isn’t quite a finished product. He’s going through evolutionary changes with his audience and fans witnessing most of them.

It’s obviously no mistake his last full length album was entitled The Awakening. That title is appropriate for someone like Morrison, coming into a new light and attempting to change his perspective as he gets older. Contrasting the lyrical content of his debut album to his more recent material, the changes are noticeable but not altogether out of place.

Still, for someone who is making an overtly concerted effort to change the content of his material, musically he’s somehow traveling along the same track.

Soul music, especially in the U.S., isn’t something that’s prevalent in mainstream music today.  In the ‘70s and even into the ‘80s, it grabbed a strong niche within popular music, but has disappeared today for the most part. Yet this genre still lies at the core of everything Morrison plays, and it’s the one thing that’s remained constant in his sound while everything else has continued to evolve.

As his live show suggests, instead of merely approaching soul music, Morrison himself is finally starting to embrace soul as he matures. It’s hard for someone in his early 20s to really get to the heart of the genre because it takes time to grow, open up, and allow the music just be organic.  Still, as James Morrison’s content becomes deeper and more personal, his performances will naturally become more authentic. He’s still a work in progress, but someone who is headed in the right direction.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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