"Raise 'em on rhythm and blues," sings Hozier on "Jackie and Wilson," named after the pioneering soul singer. Throughout his eponymous debut LP, the Irish singer-songwriter knits those two musical touchstones back together in his Americana-rock blend, with oily guitar riffs, crashing high-hats, angelic choruses and sung-spoken verses about lit cigarettes and possible future lovers. About half of Hozier has already seen the light of day in one way or another: His biggest hit, the politically charged title track to 2013's Take Me to Church EP, opens the record; 2014 follow-up EP From Eden lends its own title track and "Work Song." Though the new songs in between have stiff competition, Hozier proves himself a consistent songwriter that unites his influences as much as he explores them.
The 24-year-old (real name Andrew Hozier-Byrne) favors gospel-inspired blues that swings from sunlit rafters ("Someone New" celebrates crushing on everyone) to juke-joint legend Junior Kimbrough's darkest moments, like the hair-raising "To Be Alone." He experiments with other genres: "From Eden" breaks it down for a flamenco bridge, and "In a Week" dabbles in Nick Drake-inspired folk. But generally, he hews to tradition, as with the twangy "It Will Come Back" or the murmurous "Work Song." Bonus cuts "In the Woods Somewhere" and "Run" hint at a darker yet promising future alongside the delta greats he idolizes. And Hozier, who identifies as a non-denominational Christian, doesn't shy away from scrutinizing religion: "Foreigner's God" hails a land "godless and free," and the title alone of "Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene" paints a temptress with stained-glass colors. In Hozier's church, we're all saints and sinners.