FEBRUARY 1, 2011
While Bobby Long was at university in London, he fell in with a group of musicians that included Robert Pattinson, future star of the "Twilight" films. "Let Me Sign," a song Mr. Long co-wrote and said he performed only once in public, was sung by Mr. Pattinson in the first "Twilight" installment with all the intensity of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks."
Bobby Long's first album, which made him an Internet sensation, was recorded in his own bedroom.
There are worse ways to launch your career, but Mr. Long all but disavows the song. "It's not really who I am and what I'm doing now," he said when we met one recent frigid morning at the Cake Shop, a club here on the Lower East Side a short walk from his apartment.
Now 24 years old and attractive in that carefully tousled way, Mr. Long has a level of natural charisma he augments with a drive toward his vision of success. With his mind on the long term, he isn't looking for the quickest way to his goal. On Tuesday, Mr. Long releases "A Winter Tale" (ATO), a spirited, thoroughly enjoyable folk-blues collection featuring his gritty singing and well-crafted songs. Though it has more than enough spark to find an audience, the album announces that a promising talent has arrived and suggests he will have much more to say.
Taught the rudiments of folk and blues guitar by his father, Mr. Long cut his teeth at countless "open-mic" nights in London. Those events could be a drag, he recalled; since anyone could take the stage and play a tune, the environment was polluted with people who were more interested in applause than artistry and improvement.
"I didn't like the competitive nature of it," he said. "Everyone's a threat to each other—so you have to play for yourself. Do it for the songs."
With his confidence and competence growing, Mr. Long recorded his first solo album in his bedroom, then set out for the U.S. in 2009 to tour behind it. He became a web phenomenon when his MySpace page tallied some two million hits, many of which came, no doubt, from "Twilight" fans. After he played about 150 shows, a gig in Los Angeles brought him to the attention of ATO Records, the label co-founded by Dave Matthews. Liam Watson, who worked with the White Stripes and Tame Impala, was brought in to oversee Mr. Long's proper debut.
Beyond the grainy rasp in Mr. Long's voice, the earthiness of "A Winter Tale" is due in part to the aural ambience of Mr. Watson's all-analog studio in Hackney, London; a beat-up old guitar Mr. Long used on several tracks; and the singer-songwriter's relative inexperience: When Mr. Watson brought in a group of accomplished musicians to provide support, it was the first time Mr. Long had ever played with a band. They went full tilt at his compositions.
"They had to fit around me," he said. "If we weren't playing live, I would have refrained a bit, I think. But it was all or nothing."
Though the band adds much to Mr. Long's debut, the foundation of his gift is apparent in the folk numbers "Sick Man Blues" and "The Bounty of Mary Jane," which feature his deft fingerpicking—Mr. Long said his father was a natural fingerpicker and he is, too.
The performances on the album reveal how Mr. Long benefited from workshopping the material in live settings before he entered the studio. A road warrior, Mr. Long has co-opted Ben Kweller's band for an ambitious tour behind "A Winter Tale."
Mr. Long has a natural affinity for 1960s and '70s songwriters. The first song his father taught him was Ray Davies's "Lola." The first songbook he owned included compositions by Donovan, Bob Dylan and George Harrison. He recalled that his first solo show in London came on the night Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett died. Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young are models—if not musically, then in terms of how they've managed to have long, fruitful careers.
"That first time in the studio, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life," he said. "I know in 10 years I'll be in a stronger position. I feel this record is inviting people along to see a career develop."
Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @wsjrock.