HOZIER: Wasteland, Baby! (Island)
Verdict: Potent Celtic soul
TOM WALKER: What A Time To Be Alive (Relentless)
Verdict: Hit-and-miss debut
Coming up with the sequel to a huge global hit can be daunting, and Hozier has clearly thought long and hard about it.
The Irish musician broke through five years ago with Take Me To Church, a single that helped his eponymous debut album sell millions.
Take Me To Church topped charts worldwide to become the most streamed track on Spotify in 2014. Only Taylor Swift’s Blank Space prevented it from reaching No1 in America. No wonder the 28-year-old from County Wicklow paused for breath.
The singer — full name Andrew Hozier-Byrne — is now back with a set of songs that plunge more wholeheartedly into swampy blues and soul. The former chorister, who fronted a blues band in his teens, wears his inspirations proudly.
Coming up with the sequel to a huge global hit can be daunting, and Hozier has clearly thought long and hard about it
The album opens strongly. Nina Cried Power is every inch as compelling a single as Take Me To Church.
A celebration of ‘the human spirit rising’ that Barack Obama included on a recent online playlist, it complements Hozier’s voice with impeccable contributions from organist Booker T. Jones and gospel queen Mavis Staples.
The bar stays high on the lovelorn Almost (Sweet Music), driven by handclaps and shimmering Afro-beat guitars, and the tuneful ballad Movement.
Like several songs here, the latter starts softly before rising to a crescendo buttressed by pounding drums, keyboards and gospel harmonies.
Hozier, on these tracks, attempts to underline his authenticity by name-dropping classic artists: Nina Cried Power mentions Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield; Almost (Sweet Music) refers to Chet Baker and Duke Ellington; Fred Astaire tap dances his way into Movement.
It’s a time-honoured trick — seeking credibility via association — but it rather labours the point.
As he continues ‘turning out his pockets’ for 57 minutes, Hozier loses focus. The throwaway Nobody suggests he should leave breezy, gap-year pop to George Ezra. As It Was is a pleasant folk tune, but no more.
Maybe, after five years, he feels his fans need bang for their buck, but they also deserve consistent quality.
When he does deliver, he does so in style. With poetic lyrics that owe something to the Irish literary tradition, he uses a predatory songbird as a metaphor on the evocative Shrike.
The title track, too, is a fine finale. Despite a tendency to drift, it’s good to have him back. Let’s hope he doesn’t leave it so long next time.
Tom Walker has also given himself something to live up to. The Glaswegian singer-songwriter last week won a BRIT as the country's best breakthrough act, but his popularity is down primarily to Leave A Light On, a Top Ten single released 17 months ago.
His first album places Walker, 27, in the