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Stop him if you've heard this before

Paolo Nutini taps into the ghosts of music past

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He's only 22, but soulful Scot Paolo Nutini has been having some eerie déjà vu experiences lately that make him feel much older.

"Explain this to me, if you can," he says, scratching his tousled mop of hair in puzzlement. "You know how you can get that feeling like you've heard a certain song before? Well, I never watched Pinocchio as a kid, wasn't big on that movie at all. But I have Cliff Edwards on my iPod, who sang [its theme song] 'When You Wish Upon a Star.' And whenever that comes up on shuffle, I'll sit and cry like it means something. And whenever I'm in Montreux, Switzerland, it seems like I know my way about there pretty well. There are a lot of things where it seems like you've seen it before. And I don't know what that's all about, exactly."

OK, that's a little odd. Then again, if you've heard Sunny Side Up — Nutini's truly stunning followup to his double-platinum '06 debut These Streets (both for Atlantic) — it's not entirely surprising. Held together by his seasoned, whiskey-rough rasp, Nutini's remarkable array of originals range from the old-school reggae opener "10/10" through assured forays into: blues ("Coming Up Easy"); country ("Simple Things"); gospel ("High Hopes"); folk ("Keep Rolling"); Cab Calloway jazz ("Pencil Full of Lead"); and his trademark R&B/pop (kickoff single "Candy"). It sounds like the work of a wizened master, not some youth who was working at his family's fish and chip shop in Paisley a few short years ago — a business he was expected to eventually inherit.

Nutini's pale, skinny arms still bear the hot-oil scars from frying fish at Castelvecchi's, which just celebrated its 125th anniversary. But at the moment, the singer is now miles away from Scotland, both metaphorically and literally. And his folks understand he won't be taking over any time soon.

While visiting the States, Nutini has been stocking up on CDs and vinyl, and a perusal of his latest acquisitions suggests his musical eclecticism. There's Nilsson, Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt, Allen Toussaint, John Sebastian, King Tubby, Curtis Mayfield. "And then my must-have!" he enthuses. "Rick James' Cold Blooded. It's an absolute classic!"

"I've been lucky since high school in being able to devote a lot of my time to listening to music, and then I went on tours and got into the swing of that," says Nutini, who's frequently opened for Amy Winehouse. "I've been able to go into all these record shops, buy all these records, and fill my head with all this music. And that's having a lot to do with the sound on my new album. And every year now I'll find four artists — either contemporary or as far back as the '20s — that just blow me away. And with each discovery, maybe my music will show little traces of that, a year down the line.

"I've just always been like that," he explains. "Always been able to listen to some Hawaiian ukulele piece, very shiny, bright and smooth. And then go stick on an early Therapy? record or some early Queens of the Stone Age stuff. I've just been sifting through 'em for quality."

scene@csindy.com

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