Friday, March 23, 2012
Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
Steadily over the past decade or so, it has become clear that the UK has developed a knack for producing some of the most powerful and popular voices in the pop-soul/jazz scene heard round the world; names like Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Lily Allen and of course newly-crowned pop heavyweight Adele come to mind. New to the genre, quickly making a name for himself opening for Adele during her 2011 tour and winning the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll over such recognizable names as Skrillex and Frank Ocean, is Michael Kiwanuka, who released his wonderful debut LP Home Again in early March of this year.
Kiwanuka's brand of soulful jazz-pop has been compared to a bevy of singer/songwriters from decades past including Willie Nelson, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and my favorite soul singer/songwriter of all time, Bill Withers. The Withers connection has been made in every piece I've read written about Kiwanuka thus far, and from my view, it is an apt one: the lead track off of Home Again called "Tell Me a Tale" showcases Kiwanuka's propensity for 70s style swingin' soul-jazz rhythms and a lyrical tenderness (Lord I need lovin' / Lord I need good, good lovin') that is positively Withers-esque.
But while Kiwanuka certainly shares a meaningful amount of stylistic similarity with Withers, to me he sounds like the second-coming of Willie Wright, an only recently embraced soul-folk artist from the late 70s, whose LP "Telling the Truth" was released by the Numero Group in March of last year. Wright's brand of deeply felt soul - soft, delicate rhythms that maintain a melodic grace and palpable swing, is a departure from the kinetic funk of Bill Withers and more closely resembles the style that informs the bulk of Kiwanuka's album.
Like Wright, despite what Kiwanuka's first batch of songs perhaps lack in sophistication and versatility, the sheer listenability of smooth, infectiously lovable songs like "I'm Getting Ready", "Bones" and the melancholic title track ultimately make Home Again an impressive debut for an artist that is on the cusp of solidifying a place for himself in the pantheon of beloved British soul artists.