Songwriter Luke James, who’s performing on Friday at the Birchmere, is now performing his own work. (Stephen Cohen/Getty Images)

Luke James

Show: Friday at the Birchmere. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 703-549-7500. $35.

Luke James is a name all R&B fans need to know. His heartbreakingly beautiful single “I Want You” was nominated for a Grammy Award before he had even finished recording his first album. The singer-songwriter has released two solid mix tapes, “#Luke” and “Whispers in the Dark,” and in 2013, he received the ultimate major label R&B cosign — opening for Beyoncé during “The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.” He dropped his self-titled debut album on Island Records in 2014, and although his earliest fans may be partial to the mix tapes, the record serves as a solid example of what the New Orleans native can do.

James’s voice is beautiful: versatile and precise, but also powerful and rich. He uses his vocal skills to belt out honest, relatable lyrics. That genuine quality shines through in his live performances, where he seems to be truly enjoying himself. It makes sense that James loves what he does, given the way he’s pressed forward toward the music career he began dreaming of at age 11.

As a teenager, James joined a trio called Upskale, which performed around New Orleans and opened for major acts such as Brian McKnight. After graduation and the group’s split, James moved to Los Angeles, where he sang backup, was signed to a label and eventually began writing songs for such artists as Chris Brown, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. In interviews, James has said that writing for others helped him find himself as an artist.

“I Want You” is James’s biggest song yet, and for good reason. It’s a pining love song, but it radiates an excited urgency. He has just realized that this woman is the love of his life and he must speak up before she’s gone. You ache with him and feel forced to sing along, even if your voice cracks on the high notes.

Lauren McEwen