It must be hard being Jack Savoretti. Blessed with good looks, a soulful voice belying his age and a handful of really decent tunes, his 2007 debut Between The Minds floundered at a time when James Blunt and James Morrison were still bothering the top of the charts with much inferior albums.
Truth be told, Savoretti’s folk pop style was buried underneath some rather over-zealous production on Between The Minds. When the gorgeous single Without didn’t hit it was a sign that maybe a different tack should be adopted.
Two years later, and Savoretti has returned with a new album recorded at Jackson Browne’s LA studio with help from a couple of Counting Crows and members of Tom Waits‘s band. The new setting has resulted in a more organic style that fits Savoretti like a glove, making Harder Than Easy an instantly more likeable and warming album than the debut.
The jaunty opening track Map Of The World positively exudes charm with its easy country strum rolling along on a bed of acoustic guitars, banjo and ragtime piano. Hank Williams always kept it simple, and although Savoretti may be wallowing in heartbreak for a lost gal the music keeps him honest.
Second track Wonder is even better, moving from an acoustic opening to a swelling chorus driven by a beautiful slide guitar. Savoretti’s voice has never sounded as rich and emotional as it does here,
The Nick Drake cover Northern Sky is respectful but lacks the pinpoint beauty of the original, although this is a failing that can be levelled at most artists who attempt to cover the late singer-songwriter’s matchless songs. The fact that the Drake estate requested the cover should also be noted.
The album swiftly gets back on track with Lost America. This is the kind of English-born country pop song that the underrated Grand Drive used to specialise in, bustling along on an acoustic shuffle with Savoretti indulging in some of the swooning vocals that characterised his debut.
The downbeat mid-section of the album features two gems in Mother and Russian Roulette, which juxtapose acoustic picking, delicate slide work and spare piano to haunting effect. Both tracks also indicate a growing maturity in Savoretti’s lyrics, less in thrall to his influences (Bob Dylan mainly) and willing to experiment.
There is still the occasional lyrical misstep, with the anti-war Breaking News trying just a little too hard to get its point across. Simplicity is the key, and the title track is far more effective as a result (give or take the odd Dylan steal). Lucy Styles’ harmony vocal adds the icing to the cake on this charming song.
The harmonica-driven bluegrass hoedown of Patriot brings the listener full circle back to the style of Map Of The World. It’s a stirring little song that sets up camp in Neil Young territory, which of course is no bad thing.
Is this finally going to be Jack Savoretti’s hour? Paolo Nutini has just topped the charts with a fully-fledged roots album, so don’t bet against Savoretti gaining some mainstream radio play on the back of the current vogue for pop singers going all folk and country. Harder Than Easy is certainly worthy of greater success.