First impressions count for a lot with records. How you choose to start an album can influence the listeners’ feelings about the rest of its contents. The first few seconds of 'Mourning Train To Memphis', which kicks off Songs Of Praise And Scorn tell us exactly at which end of the singer/songwriter spectrum Christopher Paul Stelling falls. With feverishly plucked strings and a distinct Southern US twang to his voice, Stelling has very firmly nailed his colours to the country mast. Indeed, 'Mourning Train...' gives a very precise introduction to the Stelling sound. Backed by minimal accompaniment, Stelling seems to rely almost exclusively on the intricate picking of his guitar to create a sense of mood, with only the occasional hint of strings and basic percussion added in. This gives Stelling’s voice, which is strong yet allowing a sliver of melancholia to slip in, a suitable platform to sit on.

There is a sincerity about the songs here that is really enticing. Ballad 'The Ocean Stole My Love Away' is one of the best examples of this. It’s quite lovely, with Stelling’s voice far more gentle buffeted by a slower, tender playing which really helps enhance the imagery of the lyrics. The tale of lost love, the softness of the song creates a sense of hope that feels uplifting. On an album of terrific songs, it emerges as a real standout. At other times, Stelling seems to burn with the intensity of a Southern preacher. The menacing 'Ghost Ship' is a prime example of this, as Stelling summons lyrics of damnation over the haunting refrain of a violin, with Stelling’s fever rising as the song builds towards a crescendo. Its powerful stuff, and not the only example of the real potency of Stelling’s voice. 'Flawless Executioner' may start with a jaunty refrain, but Stelling soon lets rip with raw, shredded vocals that almost come from nowhere with alarming ferocity.

The truly surprising thing about Stelling is how youthful he is. There is such a mature sound to the album, with a real feeling of Stelling having lived these songs, that to see a young man holding a guitar rather than a grizzled, lived-in face is somewhat shocking. The good news is that this means Stelling has years ahead of him to hone his craft even more. Stelling already feels like the complete article, but there are no limits to where he could go from here.