Don't let George Ezra's baby-faced good looks fool you. The 21-year-old British phenom with the booming bass-baritone voice is definitely an adult artist.
Ezra's debut, "Wanted on Voyage" (Columbia), which has already topped the British charts, takes on a wide variety of adult styles with his surprising voice. Sometimes, he's channeling Mumford and Sons folk in his single "Budapest," where he bounces between his lower register and his falsetto to show off his contemporary, playful side. Sometimes, he's grooving along to '80s new wave, with the dancey "Stand By Your Gun," where his deep, distinctive voice plays off the plinky synths nicely.
Ezra's style is hard to define, with a far more complicated lineage than current Grammy darling Sam Smith or chart-topper Ed Sheeran. However, it's easy to recognize. The first half of the wild blues spiritual "Did You Hear the Rain," sung mainly at the bottom of his register in a thunderous style that rattles with its lengthy notes, could have come from the 1960s -- or even the 1860s -- before it shifts into a more contemporary sound. On the simple "Listen to the Man," it sounds like he's brought back an Elvis Presley classic.
As fascinating as Ezra's shifting musical styles are to roll through, his detailed lyrics are even more rewarding. "You said you needed a haircut, I recommended Mr. Todd," he snipes in "Drawing Board," referring to the murderous fictional barber Sweeney Todd. While lines like "I've been told your new playmate's successful and he's handsome and he's charming, it's a damn good job he isn't here or I may have wound up harming your darling" from "Leaving It Up to You" have a touch of Morrisseyesque drama, Ezra's pain sounds genuine rather than affected.
It's that combination that will make Ezra one of 2015's most talked-about new stars.
THE GRADE A-