James Morrison, Koko, London

Koko, London

It is easy to see why cynics loathe James Morrison. A 22-year-old singer-songwriter arriving in the wake of James Blunt, his debut album has sold over a million copies in a matter of months. His band are professional hired hands, not mates from school: if they did spend time slogging round the toilet circuit in the back of a decaying Transit, it was brief.

Perhaps even worse, Morrison's music appeals to the sort of 20- and 30-somethings who have snapped up all the available tickets for tonight's gig. Invariably couples, they hold hands and sing his lyrics of love and confusion into one another's eyes. Like Val Doonican, they rock, but gently.

Yet, while Morrison's rise has been meteoric and unexpected, his is not a false position. It is not possible to force a million people to buy a CD, and Morrison's fans have done so because he makes a connection. Songs like Wonderful World and You Give Me Something may strike familiar poses (a bit of over-earnest Keaneplaysailor and a slightly forced Stevie Wonder, respectively) but they provide a warm, unifying, uplifting experience.

Morrison clearly owes a debt to another tousle-haired purveyor of blues-based soul, John Mayer. Both fashion a pristine sound with antecedents in such canonical artists as the Band and Jimi Hendrix, and both know how to engage that instinctive, indefinable feel that bridges the space between stage and crowd. As yet, though, Morrison is just a good songwriter and performer. It is not unfair to suggest that his success is running ahead of his achievement. But there are signs that something beyond promising lies in his future.

My Uprising is spine-tingling, spooked, foreboding and dark, like those New Orleans voodoo stews Daniel Lanois helped Bob Dylan brew on Oh Mercy. The Letter sounds far more emotive and effective than his thin recorded version. And Call the Police, a raw, angry lyric about forbearance in the face of carping and provocation, is sung with urgency and intensity, is his strongest, most fully realised song. If there's more where these came from, there will be no stopping him.

· At Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton (0870 320 7000) tonight, then touring.


Angus Batey

The GuardianTramp

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