Thursday, 22 March 2012

REVIEW: Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

For quite a few decades now the sound of soul music has changed for the worse, becoming bland, homogenised and nothing like the quality of the genre's all time greats. But at last an artist has arrived, an artist who possesses an incredible voice, fantastic songwriting abilities and a sound that revives the classic soul sound. Michael Kiwanuka has spent the last couple of years releasing brilliant EPs and singles that have won him a great deal of acclaim and attention from the music world. Then recently Kiwanuka was voted the winner of the BBC's Sound Of 2012, sparking another wave of interest in this truly gifted 24 year old. For such a man of his age you wonder what experiences have shaped this young man's deep and world-wise tone. His spirit is engrained in every note he sings, and a maturity shines through the tone of the superbly arranged music. 

Opener 'Tell Me A Tale' could easily be mistaken for a long lost soul gem from about 40 or so years ago, it certainly has nothing in common with the style and production traits of any music made over the last few years. Instead it's like a selection from an old box of vinyl with its dusty snares, jazzy flute, sweet strings and a horn section that oozes unbeatable cool. With an ecstatically soulful chorus and the most incredible arrangement, it's undoubtedly a classic, and afterwards the great tunes just keep coming. 'I'm Getting Ready' is full of newly lit hope, built on understated acoustic guitar, hushed percussion and another superb melody. 

The gentle summer breeze of 'I'll Get Along' bears a warm 70s vibe which sees those woodwind parts and vintage arrangements return while 'Rest' is an alluringly tender ballad reminiscent of Kiwanuka's idol Bill Withers, an artist to whom his voice and style have been compared. But it's not just the soul legends this guy has learned from, as there are also more folk orientated characteristics to Kiwanuka's playing and vocal phrasing. For example there's the humble, comforting beauty of 'Home Again' with its acoustic picking and beautifully gentle strings, and a couple of tracks later there's 'Always Waiting', perhaps the moment where Kiwanuka most resembles the folk singer, presenting a more mysterious and solemn atmosphere that comes with a heartbreaking melody which shows a real depth and maturity. Of all the tracks it's the one that may pass you by a little on the first play but soon becomes increasingly engaging. 

'I Won't Lie' delivers some intimate, understated yet powerful gospel before 'Any Day Will Do Just Fine' brings simple charming chord sequences and a melody that proves to be another grower. Elsewhere we get the uplifting vintage swing of 'Bones', with its jazzy backdrop, doo wop backing vocals and sugar coated melody, it could have easily been drawn from the early 60s. The record bows out with the yearning blues of 'Worry Walks Beside Me' again conveying heartbreak and longing with a depth that's unusual for an artist of such a tender age. 

Overall 'Home Again' is a relaxing and rewarding listen, and every song is touched with a natural warmth and sincerity. The organic production and authentic vintage melodies are a refreshing antidote to the sound of most modern music in 2012, and for sure this is an artist who deserves majorly big success. 8.5

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