The disconnect between the fresh-faced young Englishman in the picture above and the earthy singing voice he uses is one of the most surprising facets of George Ezra’s debut full-length Wanted on Voyage. Despite barely being out of his teens when he recorded this album, Ezra’s voice has an amazingly mature sound to it, sounding more like a citizen of rural America than his native Bristol. The music itself, a combination of folk and country with the occasional indie-pop tweak, supports the atmosphere of the vocals brilliantly.
The album kicks off with the very distinctive Blame It On Me, where Ezra immediately demonstrates his talent as both singer and songwriter by surrounding a crisp guitar refrain with light-hearted backing instruments as he sings in a powerful, throaty voice. Lead single Budapest is a bit more subdued but still builds a pleasant folk sound off some diminished guitars, keyboards and clapping. With Cassy O’ and Barcelona, the album continues to alternate loud songs with quiet songs to strong effect in both cases, though subsequent track Listen To The Man ends up being merely passable.
Leaving It Up To You improves Ezra’s established “quiet folk song” formula with the addition of sweet backup vocals to the falsetto chorus that make for a charming finale. Did You Hear The Rain is probably my pick for the best track on the album. The song is just over four minutes long yet the first minute and a half features Ezra performing a stunning a cappella introduction. Once the instruments kick in, the rest of the song is so amazing that it feels a lot more immense than its relatively brief length would suggest, mainly due to the surprising use of guitar distortion.
After that point, the album kind of loses steam as Ezra does another upbeat folk song with Drawing Board that’s not bad but doesn’t quite stand out. Stand By Your Gun follows the same steps and is also an example of diminishing returns, distinguished mainly by the unusual-sounding synthesiser in the background. Breakaway successfully changes things up by featuring Ezra’s more subdued style of songwriting, building steadily off a simple acoustic riff for about three minutes before introducing backup musicians chanting and clapping to great effect. Over the Creek sounds strong and purposeful thanks to its careful tempo and good choice of backing instrumentation.
Spectacular Rival concludes the album in an appropriately bombastic fashion, with Ezra singing in his most solemn baritone over a melancholy anthem (a sharp about-face from the chipper musicianship on display in most of the other tracks). The unprecedented inclusion of strings makes for one of the album’s most brilliant surprises. As Ezra and the strings become more emotional, the song becomes more awesome, and Wanted on Voyage cements its status as an impressive debut. There are certain tracks that sound boring, but only because they were already done right earlier on the album. If this is the kind of music that a twenty-year-old George Ezra can muster for a debut album, imagine what he’ll be capable of in the future.