Deeply seductive from the first bar of ‘Soul Symphony’, Jarrod Lawson’s four-song promotional LP At the BBC is exactly what a BBC session should be: a naked revelation of the subject’s raw talent. Imagine a Sin-é-era Jeff Buckley in thrall to Stevie Wonder rather than to Robert Plant, breathing soul at a piano rather than thrashing out folk with a guitar, and you’ll have an approximation of the power and sound of this record.
You could spend a long time climbing and descending the constantly shifting contours of his voice; it’s worth settling down in them for a while. He accompanies himself on the ivories while Chance Hayden and Farnell Newton guest on guitar and trumpet respectively, the whole thing exuding intimacy and Jarrod’s respect for the music as well as his desire to make it his own. It being a live record, there are none of the layered harmonies that bathed the songs on his début, and none of the four songs stray from soul or jazz. This is more a showcase of genre mastery and vocal chops than a portfolio of musical virtuosity across various genres, like his eponymous album was – an album certainly worth buying, despite its frequent reliance on musical tropes that were already apotheosized by 1973-era Santana.
Jarrod Lawson has earned a place in the modern soul canon on the strength of his interpretations alone; Stevie Wonder himself is a huge fan. But for Lawson to ensure a large, devoted, long-term following on the scale of, say, Harry Nilsson, his songwriting needs to improve. The opening track is as full of bromides as one might expect from a 2014 song called ‘Soul Symphony’, and nary a lyric on the LP’s other Lawson-penned song, ‘Everything I Need’, stands out. He’s still young, and has plenty of time to build up his songwriting, so we can forgive the shortage of substance here – because style he’s got plenty of.