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The whole of Love Is Here, Starsailor’s arena-rock-goes-folk debut, sounds like the unincubated work of a band that sold its Matchbox Twenty CDs and then accidentally discovered the Buckleys, folkie father Tim and rocker son Jeff. And that’s pretty much the way it happened: As a teenager, Joaquin Phoenix-cute singer-songwriter James Walsh, now in his early 20s, read about a band that cited Jeff Buckley as an influence; he bought Buckley’s music and instantly absorbed his sound into the then-embryonic and unnamed Starsailor, which eventually took its name from the title of a 1970 Tim Buckley album. Starsailor had zero time to develop past—or even sound comfortable with—its new influences, however, before the group, with just one single to its name, was deemed “best new band in Britain” by the NME. Like former Jeff Buckley roadie Jimmy Gnecco, who leads the Buckley family clones known as Ours, Starsailor’s Walsh has a tremulous tenor that evokes both father and son. But Walsh sounds too studied to convey raw emotion like his heroes, and when he tries to get dark, as on the much-hyped single “Alcoholic,” his overdramatic delivery gives far too much weight to such cringeworthy lines as “Don’t you know you’ve got your daddy’s eyes/And your daddy was an alcoholic.” Still, there are some songs on Love Is Here that indicate better things might be down the road. The waltzing “Lullaby,” for example, has twinkling acoustic guitars, a richly melodic bass line, delicate piano trills, an anthemic chorus of “Lullaby/Stop twisting my words tonight/If you get high on life/Don’t leave me behind,” and an ecstatic Jeff Buckley-style bridge that finds Walsh belting out an elongated “Oh-ho-oh” over a screaming electric six-string. And the energetic “Good Souls” breaks out of the album’s navel-gazing rhythmic slump and absent-minded acoustic strumming for an actual riff-centered groove. This young band just might be talented enough to grow into something worth keeping an ear on, but don’t believe the hype quite yet. —Christopher Porter
Starsailor performs with Chris Lee at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. For more information, call (202) 393-0930.