Sometimes a voice comes along that is the aural equivalent of walking into a crumbling old church. Within the first ten seconds of James Vincent Mcmorrow's debut album you will feel as if you have discovered a ruined cathedral in a city's back streets. His ragged falsetto is hard to describe without resort to cliche: the throbbing melancholy, the aching hope of love, it's all there.
Those first ten seconds will immediately make you think of Bon Iver, and whether this is conscious imitation or not, reading the bumpf inside the CD will inform you that this album was also created in a lonely place (although perhaps not quite so lonely!). Opener If I Had a Boat ('Once I had a dream/it died long before') sounds pretty desperate, but then it's followed by, 'Now I'm pointed north/hoping for the shore.' So maybe a little faith in the future then.
However, as the album progresses and the Bon Iver voice gives way to some Jeff Buckley inflections, one thought undermines all the beauty: take that voice away and some of these songs are ever-so-slightly - I struggle to say it - pedestrian. The same old chords can be made to sound new again, but sometimes they can sound very, very old without imaginative arrangement. With a normal voice, some of these songs might sound a little repetitive.
But then From the Woods arrives, a song that really does sound like it was written by a man on the run - but from what? It's brilliant and terrifying, and reminds me of the first time I heard Violent Femmes' Country Death Song: it's an Irish backwoods horror movie sung by an angel.
So not quite five stars then. This album does not stand up to the debuts of the performers mentioned above, but the good news is that the raw talent is definitely there. There is more to come, I'm sure of it. James, if you're reading this: well done, brilliant, next time have more fun with that amazing voice of yours, and maybe consider a producer that will push you into places you've never been before. But know that you're on repeat, and you can't ask for more than that.