Recording information: Bashment 669, London; Eg White's Studio, Kensaltown, London; Kensaltown Recording Studios, London; Metrophonic, UK; Miloco Studios; Northern Sky, London; Sarm Music Village, London; SFTG; State Of The Ark; Studio Splendido Hereford; The Ark and Branland.
Photographer: Josh Shinner.
It seemed almost unfair that James Morrison returned from a four-year hiatus to a scene dominated by soulful singer/songwriter guitarists (Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Hozier) and blue-eyed soul crooners (Sam Smith, John Newman). His sound was perfect for the moment, but he had to contend with younger upstarts who have amply filled the niche he left after 2011's The Awakening. Morrison's fourth album, Higher Than Here, is a comforting collection of soul-folk tunes that is pleasing and enjoyable. Much like Morrison himself, the songs are likable. His voice still carries that gorgeous, husky grit, so full of smoky soul and yearning, most expertly executed on "Stay Like This" and "Just Like a Child." Elsewhere, he ventures into some OneRepublic/Script territory with the catchy hip-pop lead single "Demons." However, it's a pair of surprising album highlights that lift Higher Than Here to another plane. The rousingly defiant "Right Here" is reminiscent of the best uptempo tracks on Adele's 21 and Sam Smith's debut, while the glimmering disco of "I Need You Tonight" (co-written with Mark Taylor and Paul Barry, the duo responsible for Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos" and "Hero," as well as Cher's Auto-Tune smash "Believe") has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit. With these uptempo jams, Morrison forges a new musical pathway for himself, which his voice can surely carry. ~ Neil Z. Yeung