Home is where the heart is. Add a visceral gut feeling; some heartache clouding your brain; and hands to tug at the guitar and heartstrings and you’ve got Home Again. It’s the debut LP from Michael Kiwanuka, an English artist and folk-soul singer-songwriter. At only 24 years of age, he already boasts the thoughtful wisdom of someone in middle age, which begs the question, what will this guy be writing when he does reach 50?
Put simply, Kiwanuka is a soul man. Except that he’s less James Brown and more James Taylor. He is a quiet intellect who sounds like he’d be more at home with a stack of records from the late sixties and early seventies. I’d hazard a guess and say these included his self-proclaimed influences like: Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. His own sounds drive through to the core and groove of these classics and really, this young buck has proven quite early on that he can hold his own amongst the great masters.
Kiwanuka was recently crowned the winner of the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. It was a curious choice given that Home Again seems to come gifted to the listener with a film of dust and the right amount of crackle and pop synonymous with music straight from 1972. It is old-fashioned and nostalgic but thankfully has a contemporary feel, one that was sadly missing on Paul McCartney’s recent, Kisses On The Bottom album. It is the kind of thing that’s never quite cool enough to be “in,” but on the flipside this means it’s never really on the way “out” either; so it’s really more timeless than timely.
“Tell Me A Tale” starts things with a magical and lush number that is all swirling pipes, light sax, Otis Redding and all that jazz- it’s so smooth and melodious. The following, “I’m Getting Ready” is a hopeful tune of the folk variety, so think of Lior who in turn was inspired by Nick Drake. It’s a feeling that is replicated on the slow-burning ballad, “Rest”.
There is the soothing and smooth-as-cream, “I’ll Get Along”. On this you can almost see the guys in suits shimmying along to the proceedings in unison, a real shake baby shake. This one’s cohesion is at odds with the title track where Kiwanuka uses music inspired by Sam Cooke’s gentle sway to come to grips with the opposing elements of his identity. He was after all, living in London, the son of Ugandan parents and he loved playing the guitar. He would start off in the biz as a session guitarist in what was a real waste of talent given the power and passion of his completely natural voice, one that is on par with any of the greats from the Motown era.
On “Bones” we get an island shuffle that Jack Johnson could’ve been listening to from his back porch in between bouts of surfing. That is of course, if a Gospel choir crooning away like they were on the set of a black and white film had accompanied him. “Always Waiting” meanwhile, sees Kiwanuka wrap up his acoustic guitar riffs in a more sugary, pop flavour. It could be the influence of producer, Paul Butler (The Bees), although at times it is more reminiscent of a great anthem by Van Morrison or Cat Stevens.
Home Again is one rich and mature offering from a truly graceful gentleman who is only just older than that likeable boy next door. Across 10 tracks, the listener is treated to soul, jazz, folk and Gospel-inspired moments that are intimate, sophisticated, mellow and comfortable. Ultimately, it is an uplifting and lush display of muted sepia tones that prove the Beeb’s new golden boy is here to stay for some time yet. Well, I heard it through the grapevine, is all…
Originally published on 10 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/home_again_michael_kiwanuka
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