Album Review: Home Again, Michael Kiwanuka, March 2012

“Singer/Songwriter” had always perplexed me as a genre. It seemed odd to label music in this way since all music is created by songwriters and much of it features singers. But UK based Michael Kiwanuka is a bit of a musical puzzle as far as classification goes. So, since he writes his own songs and sings them beautifully, why not call it just that?

Home Again, Kiwanuka’s debut LP, is a mix of soulful ballads and acoustically grounded songs with hints of soul and even folk. What stands out is his voice and his songwriting. At first listen, he reminded me of Keb Mo, a blues man who never found his sweet spot in the genre milieu. But Kiwanuka is less bluesy, less rock, more soul and yes, more country. There are echos of K.D. Lang’s vocal style, Neil Young’s songwriting, and Otis Redding’s sincerity.

No matter how you classify him, his voice is unbreakable. His singing is relaxed but comes across flawlessly. His vocal style is understated yet you notice the quality in even the simplest phrasing.

The tracks on this album are varied in style but consistently listenable. “Tell Me a Tale” has a 60s soul refrain and an afrobeat hook. This rare, if not unique combination works nicely with the tune. Even above this innovative arrangement,  his voice is what’s most memorable. “Always Waiting” is a gentle hymn-like ballad that’s easy to get lost in. “Bones” has a 50s ‘rock & soul’ feel that makes it sound like a lost Elvis hit.

Altogether, this is a mature album with refreshing songwriting depth and an unforgettable vocal performance. It will grow on you as a go-to record for those times when you want to take the noise down and get yourself lost in a really nice song.

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