When Paolo Nutini's debut These Streets appeared in 2006, the teenage Scot was critically mauled as just another blue-eyed, slightly-soulful singer-songwriter, in the mum-pleasing manner of James Blunt and James Morrison.
But although the criticisms were partly justified by the immature nature of some of the material and insipid arrangements, the album nonetheless secureda slow-burning success that sold a couple of million.
Happily, any worries that Nutini might slide deeper into MOR territory prove ill-founded: the aptly-titled Sunny Side Up sees the singer making giant strides in several directions, starting with the infectious ska-pop of the opening "10/10." With James Poyser and ?uestlove lending a Soulqarian touch to the piano and drums, and Rico adding an authentic Jamaican flavour to the horns, it's a joyous, engaging track which finds young Paolo eager to please his lover, to be "a model pupil tonight, babe" worthy of top score. Vocally it's a revelation, with the rapidly maturing, confident singer now evoking the genial bonhomie of Louis Prima, the originator of Italian-American R&B — and, one suspects, a largely unsung influence on Van Morrison, whose Caledonian Soul style offers the most obvious touchstone for Nutini's approach.
That becomes more apparent in the ensuing "Coming Up Easy," a brooding soul number with Memphis-flavoured horns on which the singer's testifying repetition of the final line "It was in love I was created, and in love is how I hope I'll die" prompts comparisons with the more impassioned of Van's finales. Here and in tracks such as the slow blues "No Other Way" and the lovely, rolling "Candy," Nutini confronts the turbulence of romantic expectation with warmth and maturity.
Elsewhere, he stretches himself musically in unexpected directions, but without sacrificing the essential unity of mood: ukelele and tin whistle lend Paolo's concerns about "too much mind corruption" in "High Hopes," a light, Caribbean/South African flavour, and accordion, celeste and mandolin adding extra texture to the folksy throb of "Growing Up Beside You," while "Pencil Full of Lead" goes the whole Dixieland hog, with energetic jazz horns and R&B vocal group underlining the cheerful frugality of his contentment: "I got a nice guitar, and tyres on my car... food in my belly, and a licence for my telly," etc. As he implies here and in songs like "Keep Rolling" and "Simple Things," Paolo Nutini is essentially a simple soul with a warm, generous spirit, qualities which chime with a vast audience: don't be surprised if, come December, this is one of the year's biggest-selling U.K. albums.