Released: September 2015

Blue-eyed soul upstart Charlie Oxford delivers plenty of promise on his slick and confident self-titled debut – but is at his best when he steps out of his comfort zone.

Debut albums can be tricky but when you’re blessed with a voice as smooth as Charlie Oxford, half the battle is already won. On Charlie Oxford, his first feature length record, Oxford’s slick, soulful vocals soar effortlessly, making everything he has to say inherently listenable. Oxford could probably read the ingredients list on the back of a jar of pasta sauce and it would still sound utterly seductive, which certainly helps this collection is bright, radio-friendly soul-pop go down like a spoonful of sugar.

That said, there is such a thing as too smooth and Oxford’s clean voice isn’t always complemented by his songs which, though always catchy, are occasionally undone by overly crisp, sanitised production and somewhat clichéd lyrics about love, lust and not wanting to stay tied down. This is particularly true on the poppier tracks like opening combo Wait For and Drive Me Crazy which, though breezily pleasant, lack the necessary grit to really convey the emotions Oxford is trying to conjure. Things occasionally step into Olly Murs/Michael Buble territory and as a general rule of thumb, Charlie Oxford is at its worst when Oxford sounds his most safe and comfortable – usually when the horn section comes out to play.

But though some of the tracks stray a bit too far into MOR territory, they’re always enjoyable enough thanks to that buttery smooth voice. And when Oxford mixes things up a bit, that’s when he tends to shine. The blusey Speak Out is the first real hint of his quality, with Oxford pushing his vocals and letting in more character in the process. As if to emphasise this divide, the pretty but unremarkable ballad You And I quickly gives way to Disappear, a soaring and anthemic electric guitar-based number that is easily the best track here.

And so it goes. Stranger The Fiction, with it’s blusey riff, martial drums and dramatic strings, is a winner while Overdose and Move In On Me are instantly undone by cheesy horns and some of Oxford’s most groan-inducing lyrics (“Most guys start running the minute they dip their fingers in the sugar bowl” being a particular clunker).

Still, it’s all slick, accomplished stuff and Charlie Oxford makes for a very respectable debut. It’s easy to imagine most of these songs finding their way onto the radio and worming their way into listener’s heads. Charlie Oxford apparently has a couple of EPs on the way soon – hopefully this quick turnaround means that he’ll leave a few more rough edges next time.

★★★