What separates James Morrison from fellow Brit singer/songwriters like James Blunt and Daniel Powter is his taste for soul. Sure, this may have been fostered in part by his fondness for Elton John -- whose presence is as inescapable in Morrison's music as it is in Blunt, Powter, or any number of modern-day pop troubadours -- but Morrison picks up on the splashy soul of John's middle-period, weaving in elements of Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison to create a retro-soul vibe that's more about the song than the groove. This is more true on Songs for You, Truths for Me than it was on his 2007 debut Undiscovered, as he piles on horn sections, sings with a gruff studied soulfulness, and even cribs from Van's "Crazy Love" on his own "Precious Love." All this soulman posturing can come across as a bit too earnest, but it does give Morrison a heft and measure of grit missing in the simpering Blunt, which lends Songs for You some pleasing sonic textures not all that dissimilar to John Mayer's Continuum, but Morrison isn't just about sound, he can construct good pop songs, especially when he goes for big, bright hooks, as he does on the '70s soul pastiche "Save Yourself" and "The Only Night," which recalls Elvis Costello in his Get Happy! phase. These talents kind of contradict the soul-baring promise of the album's title, but Morrison kind of drags when he gets into ballad territory, like the Nelly Furtado duet "Broken Strings." He's better on easy rolling numbers like "Please Don't Stop the Rain" or when he puts a bit of a kick in the tempo, as the energy accentuates his popcraft, which is more energetic, forceful -- and, yes, soulful -- than his peers, something that comes into sharp relief on this solid sophomore affair.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi