James Blunt, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

In the frenzy to find a new Damien Rice or David Gray, it suddenly seems as if there's a sensitive singer-songwriter on every street corner. Judging by his rapturous reception at a sold-out Empire, James Blunt is in pole position to join them as one of the nation's favourite troubadours.

Blunt attended public school (Harrow) and Sandhurst military academy before joining the Household Cavalry, completing an unusual musical apprenticeship with a spell in Kosovo as a Life Guards officer. Now 28, his songs soon set him apart from competitors like Willy Mason, Tom Baxter and Stephen Fretwell.

With a talent for pretty melodies and lyrics that mine a seam of love and loss, his are the sort of timeless songs that make female students swoon. His voice, which can rise from a rasp to a falsetto, is reminiscent of 1970s singer-songwriters like Cat Stevens, Al Stewart and the young Elton John - a staunch fan who reckons Blunt's next single, "You're Beautiful" is a modern-day "Your Song".

That's not all he has going for him. His looks are a shaggy-haired combination of Tom Cruise and Jeff Buckley, and at the Empire many members of his substantial female following nearly collapse when he announces that in his new video he will "get [his] kit off".

It's a sign of his confidence that he can perform the ballad "Goodbye My Lover" alone on an acoustic guitar, and silence the schoolgirl chatter when he accompanies himself on piano for the heartbreaking "No Bravery", inspired by his experiences of civil war. Encouragingly, three new songs sound just as strong.

Curiously, his debut album, Back to Bedlam, is yet to dent the chart six months after its release. But it's clear here that he stands on the brink of a major breakthrough. He also shares a manager with Elton John, was signed by Linda Perry (songwriter-producer for Pink and Christina Aguilera), and one of his songs was written with Guy Chambers. And he's currently being promoted on TV to a target audience of Desperate Housewives fans.

Then there's the new video, with its suicide theme and shots of James with his kit off. How can he fail?

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