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Imported with sweet sounds

Paolo Nutini is young and pretty, but the Scottish singer isn't oblivious, at least not to the effect he has on an audience: As the mop-topped John Mayer-in-the-making stepped on stage at the sold-out Paradise Saturday, a recording of Vikki Carr's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You " brought smiles to the eager faces of his female fans.

Already proclaimed the Next Big Thing despite his tender age -- he just turned 20 -- and his skimpy CV -- his first record, "These Streets ," was released in the United States only a week ago -- Nutini is a nimble performer, and showed over the course of an hour long set why he's an import worth watching.

Easy on the eyes, Nutini looks something like Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, but he wears his emotions, not to mention his musical education, more conspicuously on the cuff of his unbuttoned oxford. Beginning with an abbreviated version of "Alloway Grove ," the epic, 14-minute track that closes "These Streets," Nutini spent much of the evening singing about girls, some sweet and some insatiable.

Although he is unmistakably the center of attention, Nutini is not the prototypical preening front man. And that's OK. On rocking numbers such as "Jenny Don't Be Hasty " and "New Shoes ," bassist Michael McDaid , guitarist Donny Little , and drummer Jim Duguid rose up while Nutini slouched down, strangling the microphone as he shuffled around the stage, his eyes fixed on the floor.

On the CD produced by Brit Ken Nelson , who's worked with the likes of Coldplay and Ray LaMontagne, Nutini's voice can sound canned, like ersatz Al Green or, worse, an outtake from "The Commitments" soundtrack. But live, it was more of a robust rasp that recalled Macy Gray and even Otis Redding. That was particularly true on the affecting "Rewind ," one of the CD's best songs and a certain radio hit.

Just as it's difficult to imagine how someone so young could fall in and out of love so frequently and profoundly, it's uncommon to hear an unseasoned artist with such a discerning musical palette. There were echoes in Nutini's set of everyone from Sam & Dave and Van Morrison to Prince and Paul Weller. The band's 13 songs included two covers -- a revved-up rendition of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and Fred Neil's "Dolphins," which has been recorded by Tim Buckley and Billy Bragg, among others.

Prior to the show, Nutini paid a visit to Rod Stewart, who was playing a show of his own Saturday at the TD Banknorth Garden. The pair have become improbable buddies since Rod the Bod attended one of the squirt's shows last year, and quite liked it. (Not exactly a secret overseas, Nutini is nominated for the UK's Best British Male award along with Thom Yorke and Jarvis Cocker.)

As he left the stage, saluting the crowd with a Nalgene bottle -- he isn't old enough to drink from the bar -- Nutini looked pleased, satisfied that he'd lived up to the hype surrounding his first foray to the States.