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Blessed with a distinctive soulful voice which combines a faux-Jamaican accent with the Cockney twang of his Hackney birthplace and the Irish lilt of his County Wexford upbringing, 21-year-old Michael Stafford, aka Maverick Sabre, first came to attention fronting abrasive slabs of dubstep by Chase & Status and Professor Green. However, there's very little in the way of massive bass wobbles on his debut album, Lonely Are the Brave, which neatly fills the retro-hip-hop soul gap left by Plan B's recent ventures into other fields. Indeed, the melancholic dissection of "Broken Britain" on understated opener "I Need" could well have been the first chapter of a Strickland Banks follow-up, as could the stripped-back acoustic blues of "Shooting the Stars," a stinging attack on police brutality, and the doo wop-tinged "No One," a heartfelt riposte to an ex-girlfriend which appears to borrow the melody from Ms. Dynamite's "It Takes More." As authentic as the vintage Ronson-esque brass arrangements and socially conscious intentions are, Sabre only really begins to make his mark when he ventures into more uptempo territory, and nowhere more so than on the three sample-reliant tracks: "Let Me Go," a triumphant slice of brassy trip-hop which uses the same eerie Isaac Hayes string section as Portishead's "Glory Box"; the laid-back mid-'90s neo-soul of "Memories" (the Roots' "What They Do"), and the orchestral hip-hop of "These Days" (the Turtles' cover of the Byrds' "You Showed Me"). Elsewhere, the ghostly reggae of "Cold Game" recalls Finley Quaye at his Brit Award-winning peak, the baggy beats of "Open My Eyes" and the summery East Coast vibes of "Sometimes" allow Sabre to showcase his impressive MC skills, while the falsetto-led chorus of the toe-tapping "Running Away" provides the album's most infectious hook. An impassioned cover of Sam Cooke's revolutionary classic, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (chosen as a response to the 2011 London riots), proves Sabre is the real deal. But the more compelling contemporary fare on Lonely Are the Brave suggests he should ditch the classic soul man routine and continue to embrace a sound as intriguing as his voice. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

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