It’s a Friday night and I’m getting prepped for my radio show looking for new African acts delivering great music. It was while doing this a few weeks ago that I heard Michael Kiwanuka for the first time via Okay Africa. What I heard that day was “Home Again“, the lead single and title track for his debut album which I have the pleasure of reviewing now. As such; without further ado, I plug to you the BBC Sound of 2012 winner, Michael Kiwanuka with his inspiring debut album Home Again.
Michael is a British Singer/Songwriter of Ugandan Heritage, with a refreshing sound because he sounds like no one you have heard in the last twenty or thirty years. To try to compare him to any singer, you will have to go back and I mean way back to the likes of Otis Redding and Bill Withers. Somewhere in the middle of those two great voices, emerges Michael with a unique yet aged sound, that inspires, captivates and sincerely moves you to your core. I know some of you would like to bring up Ray Lamontagne as someone he sounds like, but though they both are folk singers, Ray’s voice does not quite have the edginess and vintage soul that Michael’s does.
However, you don’t have to be old to like Michael Kiwanuka, this is not nostalgic music, such that my parents would be glad because they hear a sound they can relate to, because it reminds them of when they were young. No! This is still hip and young music, and all you have to be is a lover of good music. You don’t have to be the kind of person who is into Soul or Folk music; Hip-Hop lovers, Country lovers, Rock lovers, everyone can love his songs if you take the time to listen and let this music do its work. There’s a magical eeriness to his sound that simply heals.
The album starts off great with “Tell Me A Tale” and this immediately makes you think Otis, but what I love about this song is what they do on production. There’s a bridge there where you hear the saxophone, horns and trumpets that reminds you immediately of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Producer, Paul Butler of UK Indie Rock Band The Bees – who produces all the tracks on this album – does a great job on this song. Right from the jump you can hear that Michael really owns this sound, he is not just trying it on for size and throughout the album you cannot deny the vivaciousness of his voice.
The album’s second song is easily my favorite song on this album. I’ve always said that Country is my favorite genre because they always tell a story and this is what “I’m Getting Ready“does. Backed by soft guitar progressions accompanied by the most minimal drum patterns and soft but yet captivating backing vocals, it is the shortest song on this album but it is such an anthem, the kind that you will hear as the backdrop of a scene in a poignant movie of triumph, faith, miracles and victory. Don’t let this one get over your head, let the calmness of the song sweep you into believing.
“I’ll Get Along” is more lively and more romantic with Michael telling someone – assuming it’s a girlfriend rather than his mother – and just letting her know he’ll be back, even though he hasn’t called over some amazing Jazz flutes, lush drum patterns and backing harmonies. “Rest” is more soulful, a gentle sort of lullaby with the piano arrangements lulling you to rest, to be at peace, especially in the arms of the one you love as Michael promises to not let you worry at all. “Home Again” is that song that uplifts when you are feeling lost and lonely. Its raw emotion and easy melody is such that makes you smile. That’s what this album does, it strings at your heart in different ways, evoking varying emotions.
“Bones” is my second favorite song on this album. I would play it at my wedding and request to dance it at every opportunity to dance with the man of my dreams. It is that 80’s song of before, with background singers that harmonize on it so perfectly and a Jazz-influenced string arrangement that keeps the sung buzzing. Michael longs to be alone with this person and promises to be just bones, without this person in his life. Such beauty in a song, I honestly haven’t heard in a while.
I’ve had this album on repeat all day and passed on the stream link to everyone I know would appreciate good music. Home Again, contains only ten tracks, so it will be easy for me to just review each song, but I actually want you to purchase this album and discover some of the magic of songs like “Always Waiting” and “Worry Walks Beside Me” on your own. These songs and the other two not mentioned here are without saying just as great as the ones that I have mentioned above. This album is the sort that you would remember the first time you heard it and wouldn’t forget it either. Listen to “Any Day Will Do Fine” below if you still doubt…
It is easily my favorite album of the year thus far and every other “new” artist in 2012 has the onus upon them to create something as beautiful as this. This is not hype, this is substance and I say so very objectively. I have listened for flaws onHome Again and I can find none. He is a brilliant story teller; the guitar, the strings, the brass, the saxophone, the flutes, the trumpet and his stunning voice all blend together perfectly on each and every song on this album.
I could go on and on here but wouldn’t you rather listen than read? I know I sure would, so please – and I am begging because I know you will come back to thank me later – purchase this album today. Buy this album for a friend even and lets have Michael reach great success with this truly inpsiring debut effort. Also, if you are in Austin, which I unfortunately am not, he will be performing at South by Southwest (SXSW) a couple of times, so make sure to check out the website to watch him perform these songs live.
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