“Hot young soul singer from the U.K. drops debut album” is not as effective a headline as it once might have been.
There are simply so many soul singers working presently, and so few of them seem to possess anything resembling genuine soul, that “soul” has become about as meaningful a signifier as “punk.” As in, not very meaningful at all. Of course, one falls for such headlines anyway, because hope endures, and light can enter your life from the most unexpected places.
A little bit of light has entered mine with the arrival of “Definitely Now,” the first album from Nottingham, England, native Liam Bailey. So self-assured, so startlingly soulful, and so redolent of a deep immersion in both popular music’s past and present that it’s tough to accept Bailey as a newcomer. He’s got the voice. He’s got musical chops to spare. He can write. And he understands that soul exists in the spaces between the notes as much as it exists in the notes themselves.
The time was certainly ripe for some young buck to come along and connect Bob Marley, Hendrix and Otis Redding to the Black Keys, White Stripes and like-minded purveyors of Caucasian garage-soul. Bailey is that dude.
“Definitely Now” kicks off with the psychedelic strut of “On My Mind” – picture “Brothers”-era Black Keys as covered by John Legend & the Roots, with Sonny Sharrock on guitar – and proceeds to tear through 14 original tunes that blend reggae (Bailey is half Jamaican, and he’s not messing when he takes on the form), Motown, Hendrix-informed acid-pop, at least one song that suggests immersion in early Pink Floyd, and the sort of soul-pop crossovers that we would have loved to have the opportunity to hear Bailey’s first big fan and benefactor, Amy Winehouse, sing.
If I sound breathless, it’s because Bailey has left me that way. A simply stunning debut.
"Definitely Now" [Flying Buddha/Sony]
3.5 stars (out of 4)
While the full Bailey album has yet to hit Spotify, here's a taste through the single "On My Mind."