Austin – Six months have elapsed between the U.S. and British releases of Wanted on Voyage, George Ezra’s debut record on Columbia, so that the U.S. release could be synchronized with Ezra’s breakout radio hit, “Budapest,” and his first North American tour. (Ed., Best New Bands spoke with Ezra recently; our interview will be published shortly.)
Chances are you’ve already heard some, maybe even a lot, of the material on Wanted on Voyage. Besides the timing, one third of these songs have appeared on Ezra’s earlier releases, 2013’s Did You Hear the Rain? and last year’s Cassy O’.
As some of the best tracks on Ezra’s first two releases, you could do worse for “filler material.” Especially “Budapest”, Ezra’s song originally included on Did You Hear the Rain?, already #1 at Triple A radio and starting to conquer other formats. The plucky, melodic blues croon probably reigns as Ezra’s best song, and its inclusion here is smart from a promotional standpoint, even if it raises questions about his readiness to put out an album.
So with just eight tracks’ worth of new material, what kind of impression does Wanted on Voyage leave? A pretty good one, overall. The bluesy songwriting that won him a record deal is present in this limited sample. Besides two singles-worthy cuts, devoted listeners will find a favorite song in the rest of the album. Moreover, Ezra grows into the space provided, showing the flexibility and range necessary to put together an album’s worth of material. That he didn’t do it this time around winds up only a venial sin.
“Listen to the Man” isn’t my favorite George Ezra song, but it is an example of Ezra’s sustained ability to do what he does best: making a blues touch at home on a song where it shouldn’t be. In this case, a quintessentially modern bedroom love song, a hybrid carried by 12-bar strum barely accompanied by what might be a toy piano way in the background, and lyrics that start with “I feel your head resting heavy on your single bed.”
If I did have to pick a favorite it would be “Stand by Your Gun.” Cribbing afro-pop secondhand from Vampire Weekend, “Stand by Your Gun” presents a surprisingly jammy minor key love song, something I think Ezra didn’t quite pull off with “Did You Hear the Rain.”
Encouraging as it is to hear Ezra continuing to make good on the promise of his earlier material, there are places where he seems to stand still—the title of “Barcelona” telegraphs an intent to repeat the success of “Budapest,” but it only half-commits to that blueprint. The key and affect diverge, but the same arrangement of melodic guitar and soft kick drum accent is telling a similarly romantic tale. To be clear, it’s hardly the same song: but it lacks the pretty ambiguity that made “Budapest” a success.
In our own interview, George Ezra has called himself relaxed, and described an approach to songwriting that doesn’t force things, that lets ideas develop at their own pace. Comfortable un-hurried doesn’t just characterize most of the songs on Wanted on Voyage, but Ezra himself. As a reviewer and a professional watcher-of-music you want to see a debut album that comes out swinging, but this feels like exactly the record Ezra wanted to make, and a record that will be loved by the people who will be drawn to his music.