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John Newman’s debut opens with a slow string section, a voice that sounds like the singer reading out great acts of ages past, and an electronically whirl-winded “Crystal,” from the AT&T Natural Voices® synthesized voice collection, reads off the decades. A breathtaking compendium of expectations summoned up — and to his credit, John Newman, his real name, age 23, crawls out from underneath this dropped asbestos curtain of talent and goes into his own not-half-bad song and dance, without breaking a sweat, or our faith. He may not be brilliant, just yet. But he’s worth hearing, and that was not something I would necessarily have given him after the icebreaker.

“Tribute” introduces what we’ll get in measures throughout: tasteful, echoed backgrounds featuring everything from martial drums to Four Tops–style baritone sax, never all at the same time, never swarming the mix, but always adroitly balanced. This could seem too polite, but thanks to the four at the control panel — Ant Whiting, Steve Booker, Mike Spencer, and Newman — it keeps building and rushing in a constant urgency.

And Newman’s own warm, laddish voice tops it all off — usually pleading, something he’s learned well from the greats. He sometimes has to holler to be heard over the mix, but that gives him extra punch. At 23, he shouldn’t be able to persuade us that his heart’s been broken, or stood in the docket, so many times. That’s a kind of magic. Modest. But building.

  • Artist: John Newman
  • Album: Tribute
  • Label: Universal Republic
  • Songs: (1) Tribute (2) Love Me Again (3) Losing Sleep (4) Easy (5) Try (6) Out of My Head (7) Cheating (8) Running (9) Gold (10) Goodnight Goodbye (11) All I Need Is You (12) Day One
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