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Music Review: Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

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Home Again is the debut album from North London-based British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, and though it has taken me a few listens, it is now my preferred album of the moment for its soft, summery sounds and vintage feel.

‘Rootsy’ and ‘soul-folk’ are labels that have been used to describe Kiwanuka’s style. He is one of a handful of unique talents who seem to sound completely current and yet deliver a sound that re-introduces us to the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s (Adele, Ren Harvieu, Duffy, the late Amy Winehouse, Rufus Wainwright, and Gotye to name but a few).

Home Again was produced by Paul Butler of The Bees. Butler has developed a reputation for creating a retro-modernist feel as a producer, mainly by the use of vintage equipment and instruments, and also by keeping the focus on the vocal and the singer’s own rhythm rather than using loops, click tracks or trying to perfect or quantize them.

You can hear this perfectly in Kiwanuka’s album. It begins with ‘Lasan’ (U.S. version of the album only). Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, it has subtle drums and a gospel choir that provides the backdrop for the aching and soulful vocal.

‘Tell Me A Tale’ lifts off with a quivering flute. Joined by brass and a shuffle beat, it has a lovely summery soul feel and reminded me of Corinne Bailey Rae. ‘Rest’ brings the tempo down slightly but still retains the light, summery sound with a touch of the ’70s. The choral backing and flute return in ‘I’ll Get Along’ but with a firmer beat.

The next two tracks, ‘Home Again’ and ‘Getting Ready’, strip the sound right back to vocal and acoustic guitar. This is the heart of Kiwanuka’s sound – a beautifully gentle melody with a longing in the vocal that really touches you.

Acoustic guitar and vocals are enjoying a renaissance at the moment. Folk music is creeping into the pop psyche and suddenly it is cool again to be a singer with a guitar. The simplicity at the heart of Kiwanuka’s songs is what is so beautiful and touching. However, the production on the album adds a touch of ’70s soul and accentuates the soulful qualities of Kiwanuka’s voice perfectly.

Next track ‘Bones’ takes the tempo up again with a great swing blues band sound and soaring vocal, but I would have loved to hear more of this type of song. ‘I Won’t Lie’ sounds like a musical prayer but with sweeping horns and a crescendo drum roll. This song, as well as ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ and ‘Any Day Will Do’ all have a pleading or longing quality to them as if they are musical prayers. The themes the album seems to cover are spirituality, restlessness, home, transience and longing. Kiwanuka’s voice is so gentle and wistful yet soulful and determined at the same time.

Apparently Kiwanuka has said that he aimed to be a session guitarist who wrote the occasional song. After winning the BBC’s Sound of 2012 and seemingly getting a universal thumbs-up from critics with this debut album, I would have thought that he could now consider himself a singer-songwriter in his own right. I would definitely love to hear another album from him.

I believe that the U.S. tour has been extended to October. There are a list of new dates starting from September 2012 on the Michael Kiwanuka website.

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