Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka ‘Home Again’
The current state of a majority of mainstream R&B/Soul music in the States is rather discouraging when compared to its heyday, as it’s now comprised of little in the way of refreshing or original-sounding talent, so who knew that a young London artist raised by Ugandan parents could inspire a little hope for this genre by building off the styles of venerable singers like Otis Redding, Bill Withers, and Marvin Gaye. The artist is Michael Kiwanuka, and there is a lovely hazy quality to his debut album Home Again as if it’s straight out of the 1960s or 1970s, thereby evoking a timeless quality. Kiwanuka’s music can be described as rootsy, folk-inflected modern soul with hints of jazz and contemporary R&B.
Apt comparisons could include Anthony Hamilton and Musiq Soulchild, but Kiwanuka’s work is clearly more influenced by folk artists like Bob Dylan and Laura Marling in comparison to his American counterparts, as well as the guitar prowess of Jimi Hendrix.
Simply put, Kiwanuka has released an impressive debut album, and even if you’re listening to it on a modern device like an iPod, you might feel like you’re listening to tracks on a 33rpm vinyl record with a faded sleeve. These are well-crafted, smooth songs that carry you to another time thanks to Kiwanuka’s raw and achingly beautiful voice.
The most arresting theme on this album is striving to find a sense of belonging and finding one’s place in the world, which may stem from Kiwanuka feeling like an outsider. There are no shortage of songs about love and yearning as well, but they are delivered in a very laid-back manner with a great sense of warmth and mellowness.
If there is any complaint to be had about his debut, it’s that his next offering shouldn’t ride on style alone and will hopefully delve deeper substance-wise lyrically. In any case, he’s off to a good start.
Notably, Kiwanuka was the winner of the BBC Sound of 2012, which aims to highlight the most promising new music for the year ahead. While 2012 may be a promising year for Kiwanuka, one can’t help but think he’d find equal success and slip right into the music of a bygone era.