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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I'm writing to let you know that Willie Wright, whose 1978 classic LP "Telling the Truth" was re-issued by Chicago re-issue label Numero Group last year,  has made a brand new album called “This is Not a Dream.” You can hear all the new tunes here: http://www.myspace.com/willie_wright and can buy the album directly from the artist at www.williewrightmusic.com
    The re-issue got very positive response from soul fans and new listeners; "Good Morning America" featured one of the tunes ("I'm So Happy") from it on May 7, 2011, and the first pressing sold out in a matter of weeks. All of this is what has inspired Willie to ease temporarily out of retirement, assemble a new band with some old friends in Burlington, Vermont, and craft his first studio album in 34 years.
    He is now 73 and copes with advanced Parkinson's, but can still make arrestingly beautiful music with thoughtful lyrics. His "smooth as warm butter" voice is still powerful, even though at the same time, it reveals a more fragile and emotional side than in his early career. This new record was released by Green Coil Records in Burlington, Vermont on April 24, 2012.
    Given that he is not able to gig or tour in support of the album, we are depending on reviews and word of mouth to promote it - please give a listen and let us know what you think!
    Thank you
    Bob Green
    Green Coil Records www.greencoilrecords.com
    Burlington, Vermont, USA