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Friday, 21 December 2012

4. Jay James Picton : Play It By Heart

We’re counting down to Christmas Eve with the albums of the year. Come back tomorrow to see what’s next ...

I first stumbled upon Jay James Picton midway through a charity album called Songs To Save A Life, designed to raise funds for The Samaritans.

The young Welshman had contributed a soul take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend so impassioned that it raised the hairs on the back of your neck.

Since then, he’s hunkered down in the studio and recorded a debut album of his own songs, winning big name fans such as The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Booker T Jones, John Legend and Hal David (he of Bacharach & David fame).

All of which is remarkable when you consider that five years ago, he hadn’t sung a note.

He was a PE teacher with the Royal Navy until an injury sustained in a rugby match left him on the sidelines.

One drunken New Year’s Eve he spotted a cheap five-string guitar in a shop window, bought it on impulse and taught himself to play. “I didn’t really listen to music when I was growing up,” he admits. “I wasn’t into music at all, up until five years ago.
“I messed my knee up, got drunk on a night out with the lads and bought this guitar, which I promptly consigned to a cupboard.

“But I’d played sport everyday of my life so it was a massive thing not to be able to work out or take part. I was a bit lost and needed something to focus on, and that’s why I decided to learn to play the guitar.

“I started humming along and then singing along as I was just trying to keep the rhythm. It all happened really quickly and out of the blue, to be honest. Suddenly I realised that I could sing.

“Writing came a little later because I’ve not been very good at expressing myself. Generally I don’t read books and I’m not very good at English so writing is not something I’d ever done, to be honest with you.”

All the more remarkable, then, that Play It By Heart isn’t just a good album.

It's almost the best album of the year.

With a soulful vocal that somehow blends old school class with indie credibility, he’s the male Amy Winehouse.

It’s an album of contrasts, too.

Opening with a spluttering rock guitar chord and the sparse soundscape of Another Man, it ends in The Boy That Wants To Fly, which is surely a Bond movie theme in the waiting.

The title track will delight both Stax soul collectors and the urban R&B crowd, a companion perhaps to Adele’s Rolling In The Deep, while the gossamer Spiders would sit comfortably with anything by Chris Martin or Damien Rice.

Best is Gravity, an utterly gorgeous love song which boasts an irresistible hook. You won’t hear much better.

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