The expression ‘voice beyond their years’ is bandied around far too often, and most of the time, what it really means is that a young singer doesn’t sound like a young singer is expected to sound; a bit of a patronising non-sequitur. Yes, George Ezra possesses a voice that seems to have aged with him like twenty-year-old bourbon, steeped in the soulful hops and grains of America’s deep Southern Blues. At first it wouldn’t sound out of place coming from the mouth of a weathered shrimp fisherman cruising the waterways of Louisiana on a battered little boat. Take a closer look at ‘Wanted On Voyage’, though, and it isn’t beyond Ezra’s years at all. Colouring his lyrics of heartbreak with all-important believability is Ezra’s major strength, and though his melodic veins might run red with the paired-back folk of Tom Paxon, Woody Guthrie, and Phil Ochs, on this album’s stand-out moments, Ezra manages to channel his decidedly vintage influences into a stomping, energetic, and thoroughly youthful place.
One such moment is ‘Budapest’. Taking the dilemma of waiting for someone else to put themselves, and their emotions, out there on the line, Ezra builds everything up into gleaming golden treasure chests and beautiful Hungarian Castillos; comfortable luxuries that he’s willing to leave behind for love. It’s classic metaphorical hyperbole, and the main draw here is Ezra’s remarkable voice. Stripped-down, tumbling Blues licks make way for chiming little flourishes of melody, and all the while, Ezra’s whooping high notes power the whole thing along. It’s no surprise that George Ezra says he’s a fan of Mānuka Honey, because ‘Did You Hear The Rain’ sees Ezra plummet flawlessly right down the other end of the vocal scale, howling “why do you treat me so” with devastatingly beautiful precision, before soaring upwards with folk-yodelling exuberation. Ezra could be singing his shopping list, and it would still sound charged with pure emotion.
‘Wanted On Voyage’ is a promising debut from an artist who clearly has plenty of room still to grow, and its occasional lack of polish gives a glimpse into where he can go next. ‘Spectacular Rival’ feels a little overblown and slightly abrasive, bursting out into a theatrical cacophony of oddly synthesised string instruments, and occasionally the momentum of the record also goes the other way, lulling a little. When George Ezra really hits his stride, and reaches full potential on songs like the dreamy pop-blend of ‘Stand By Your Gun’, though, his classic, soulful charge meets headlong with a young, inventive mind that has a clear talent for writing playful and irresistible music. A musical sponge absorbing and mangling Greenwich Village 60s folk together with modern pop, this charming debut is a solid indication that George Ezra is far more than just a young man with a very big voice.