Ever since Ed Sheeran began his meteoric rise to All Consuming Musical Overlord a decade ago, there’s been a never-ending debate in “authenticity” in music. No series of a TV talent show is complete without an endless parade of Very Serious Young Men armed with facial hair, tattoos and guitars, and the amount of identikit troubadours in the charts show that it’s a notion that’s massively successful.
Rory Graham, otherwise known as Rag’n’Bone Man, may have sprung from that template, but there’s always been something about him that sets him aside from his contemporaries. His debut album Human, released four years ago, had some genuinely startling and powerful moments, even if, like many debuts, it showed an artist still finding his feet.
There’s been plenty of time taken on Graham’s follow-up, and it’s been well spent. Recorded in Nashville in a series of live sessions, there’s an immediacy and warmth about Life By Misadventure which bodes well for repeated plays. It helps as well that Graham has a voice that can raise up even the most mediocre song up to another level.
It’s that vocal which producer Mike Elizondo has wisely made the centrepiece of the record. For, as the old cliché has it, Graham has a voice that could sound good singing the phone book, and there are several breathtaking performances showcased on the album.
The single All You Ever Wanted has been a regular radio fixture since its release and it’s easy to see why – it’s an instantly catchy, pounding anthem with Graham switching from low growl to full-throated roar on the chorus. Somehow, it’s one of those songs that never seems to grow old.
Graham sounds even better on the more lovelorn tracks though. Fall In Love Again is bound to tug at even the least elastic of heartstrings, being the type of low-key, steadily building ballad that made his name. Anywhere Away From Here sees Graham duet with P!nk for a hymn to insecurity and imposter syndrome that already sounds like a global hit in waiting.
Perhaps Graham’s most impressive vocal performance is on Talking To Myself – perhaps unsurprisingly, as it’s the one song on the album rumoured to be about the break-up of his marriage. No matter who the song’s directed it, it’s an undeniably emotional performance and one of the high points of the record.
There are some flaws on the record – it’s a bit too long for starters and starts to flag badly in the album’s second half. As decent a song as Anywhere Away From Here is, nobody really needs two versions (one with P!nk’s vocals, one without). There’s also a few too many songs that fall into ‘melancholy pop’ formula – these are more listenable than most, thanks to Graham’s voice, but on a long album like this, some judicious editing could be applied.
Despite these quibbles, there’s a definite sense on Life By Misadventure of a major step up from Human. It’s a conscious move to move Rag’n’Bone Man up to the level of the likes of Michael Kiwanuka and Ray LaMontagne – if he carries on at this trajectory, he’ll have a career to rival them both.