Album of the week : Home Again - Michael Kiwanuka

Everything about Home Again suggests that it’s about forty years too late to the party. The sepia-toned album artwork looks like something that you might have found in your early 70s vinyl collection but the face on the cover belongs to Michael Kiwanuka, a 24 year old Londoner who was recently announced as the winner of BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll - a distinctly contemporary honour for a musician whose music has more ties to the past than it does the present

London born, of Ugandan parents, Michael began his musical career as a session guitarist for hip-hop artists Chipmonk and Bashy before establishing himself as a solo artist. In 2011 things started to take off for him. With the release of two EPs and supporting Adele at the iTunes Festival in London he quickly attracted interest and in January this year landed the BBC award

Kiwanuka’s vintage soul vocals nod towards the soulful jazz of early Van Morrison, the reflective folk of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter with an added helping of Curtis Mayfield for good measure. Of course, too heavy a reliance on these themes could have reduced the album to little more than gimmickry but Kiwanuka’s exquisite voice, coupled with Paul Butler’s production, has yielded an album in which virtually every track is a standout

The brilliant Tell Me A Tale’, punctuated by pan-flutes and brass flourishes, is a melodramatic piece that could well translate into the sleeper hit of 2012. Kiwanuka echoes Marvin Gaye in the chorus of ‘Lord I need loving/Lord I need good good loving’, but somehow manages not to cheapen the approach of the pioneers

Title track, ‘Home Again’ is a laid back, effortless slice of acoustic soul, tapping into a sense of hope for safety and solitude while also feeling anxiety about both the present and the future. Hearing ‘I’m Getting Ready’ for the first time feels like discovering a classic 70s soul record you never knew existed – an anthem free from affectation or overproduction

The haunting ‘Any Day Will Do Fine’ sees Kiwanuka echo the more subdued moments of Nina Simone as he emotes ‘Your time will afford you/My custom be paid/They’ve never known/For I’ve never shown’. ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ is the standout track. Spookily reminiscent of Grace-era Jeff Buckley, Kiwanuka shows himself to be at his best when tackling the slower and more melancholic tracks, the depth of his delivery carrying them perfectly and imbuing them with layers of emotion few other modern artists could pull off. The chorus of ‘What will it take to believe I can run?/What will it take, when will I be done?/I’ve been trying’ is the album’s best moment and shows an artist at the peak of his powers despite being at the very beginning of his career

‘I’ll Get Along’ and ‘Bones’ are others which benefit from superb arrangements, with the surrounding musicians providing a pep to the mix from which Kiwanuka is able to display his talents

The beauty of these tracks comes from the combination of Kiwanuka’s silken, rich delivery and the honest, log cabin production style – evoking the warm brown hues of the record’s cover – that could make any listener feel as though they are sitting beside an open fire in winter listening to a master storyteller weave his magic. Clearly elements of Kiwanuka’s sound are indebted to classic soul and R&B artists of bygone days, but the overall combination is something exciting and wholly his own

Kiwanuka’s debut album is a wonderful collection of exquisitely arranged and performed soulful grooves. It’s interesting to note that an album which identifies so solidly with a period of soul 40 plus years ago has signposted Kiwanuka as being one to keep a close watch on in the future. A wonderful achievement

Believe the hype

Buy it here 

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April 06, 2012

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