In case you haven't been paying attention, singer-songwriters on punk labels 1) are not uncommon, and 2) should automatically give the discriminating music fan 10 things to wince about -- none of which warrants mention here; Cleveland's Henry James is the exception to the rule.
The 19-year-old wunderkind has followed the Dashboard Confessional route, progressing from a solo act to principal writer backed by a full band. Unlike most new-school strummers, James doesn't let his voice get too high or quaky, and his lyrics aren't just free-form diary entries. "Insturmental" kicks off Bipedal Space Heater with tolerable unplugged lamentation, and the disc quickly snowballs into something much bigger. "Jesus Speaks to Me in Mini-Series" just rocks, drums drowning out the fuzzy electric guitar. By "Split the Rent," James has left punk and open-mic numbers behind for good, adding a jazz quartet to create a blue-collar cabaret tune. If his next disc has three more quality hooks than this stellar debut, look for comparisons to Elliott Smith.