James Bay's "Chaos and the Calm" album.

James Bay's "Chaos and the Calm" album. Credit: Interscope Records / Republic Records

British singer-songwriter James Bay has hit on the formula that makes Grammy voters swoon and critics of a certain age take notice.

He is a young artist who celebrates an older style of music.

On his debut album, "Chaos and the Calm" (Republic), the 24-year-old, already known for his trademark fedora and long hair, wears his love of '70s rockers on his rolled-up sleeves -- a trait that has landed him the prestigious Brits Critics' Choice Award that went to Adele and Sam Smith before him.

The Bruce Springsteen influence is evident in his more acoustic material, where his full, raspy voice is strongest. He swaggers his way through "Craving," and adds a bit of James Blunt to "Incomplete." There's some "Rumours"-era Fleetwood Mac touches on the likable "If You Ever Want to Be in Love."

At the top of his vocal range, Bay sounds like John Waite, from The Babys and of "Missing You" fame, especially on "Collide," which could have come from 1979 with its blues organ chords and post-punk energy, and on the simple guitar ballad "Let It Go."

Bay is at his best, though, when he combines those two worlds, like on the wrenching "Scars," where he applies Waite-like howls to a rocker filled with Springsteen-ish details, or "Get Out While You Can," which sounds like a mix of The Babys' "Back on My Feet Again" and Springsteen, circa "Devils and Dust," with a dash of Coldplay.

On the first single, "Hold Back the River," he moves between his rocker and balladeer voices, creating an interesting tension that still sounds completely familiar. It's that familiarity, though, that may be Bay's biggest struggle. Entering a market filled with Hoziers and Passengers, it's hard to see how he will distinguish himself.

Can being likable be enough? Considering how easily the sleek "Chaos and the Calm" goes down, all signs point to yes.


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