SOUL MAN: At 20, Nutini sounds decades older.
“I don’t usually come across as all that interesting in interviews,” admits 20-year-old Paolo Nutini over the phone from a gig in Stockholm. “All I wanna do is talk through my music, you know? I mean, when you’re a young kid dreaming of singing on stage, you don’t really think of all the stuff that goes along with it. You don’t anticipate doing interviews all day.” He stops and laughs. “Man, listen to me. My dad’s probably at home” — that’s Paisley, in Scotland, where his pop runs a fish-and-chips shop — “doing his hundredth bag of chips today. If he moaned and groaned like this, he wouldn’t have been able to provide for me and my family.”
That’s a brand of old-soul wisdom you can hear on his debut, These Streets (Atlantic), which has caused a sensation in England since its release there last summer. Nutini, who’s at the Paradise this Saturday, plays the sort of semi-acoustic white-guy soul rock proffered by Gavin DeGraw and John Mayer: catchy, sturdily constructed tunes with enough instrumental jam to impress music-school grads but not so much that it turns off radio listeners. The voice, though, sets him apart: he’s one of these fresh-faced young guys who looks 14 but sounds decades older, as if Van Morrison had come back reincarnated as a character on The OC. Scratchy and sweet in equal measure, his vocals give These Streets an unexpected durability. A couple of songs — “Last Request,” where he beseeches his lady to “just let me hold you,” and “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty,” in which he tells Jenny, “Don’t treat me like a baby” — sound as if they’d been on the jukebox at your favorite watering hole since before you can remember.
Nutini says he’s pretty tired of the fuss being made over this young-old dichotomy; he wishes everyone would just focus on his music. “Some people have a really flamboyant personality that wants to be at the center of attention. I don’t have that desire. Most of the people I respect — John Martyn, Johnny Cash — they’re just honest on stage. There’s never any big stage shows or fancy costumes. The people take a back seat to their songs.”
Nutini’s devotion to his own songs has caused him some consternation regarding These Streets, whose American release has occasioned a little self-examination. “I think maybe I was a bit too conscious of my surroundings,” he says of his experience recording with Ken Nelson, the high-profile UK producer who’s worked on releases by Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy. “It got me a bit nervous about the situation, and I didn’t apply myself as much as I could have.” He says that if he had the time — and if Atlantic had a reason to fund it — he’d love to go back and make the album again with his current live band. “I think now it’d jump at you through the speakers a little bit more.”
He harbors no such worries about his live show, which he says provides a more realistic portrait of his current tastes. “Once you’re on stage you can do what you wanna do. I like that freedom.” Although he’s heading home after his Paradise gig, he’ll be back in the States at the beginning of March, playing smaller markets like Tucson and Mobile. “I’ve only seen New York and LA, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to going anywhere.”
PAOLO NUTINI | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | February 3 | 617.931.2000
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Paolo Nutini: //www.paolonutini.com/