Archives for posts with tag: Neil Young

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.

Playlist: Great recordings from the Canadian songbook

Canadian music through the years, like Canada itself, has formed a bedrock of classic songs. Reflecting on the calibre of songwriting that has come from Canadian artists, I created this playlist and was delighted by its depth and staying power. It’s not a profile of Canadian music…that would be a longer list. Rather, I made my selections primarily from the folk and rock genres that mingle so naturally to form a distinctly Canadian sound.

1. Going to the Country, Bruce Cockburn – From his first album, a really good, simple folk song.

2. Blackbird, The Beatles – The only import on the list. It blended so beautifully with the first track, I had to add it as a companion.

3. When She Loved Me, Sara McLachlan – Heartbreaking ballad, one of McLachlan’s best, but unknown unless you have kids and watched Toy Story 2

4. Pulling on a Line, Great Lakes Swimmers – Relatively new group with an appealing folk-rock sound

5. Try, Blue Rodeo

6. Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Barenaked Ladies – Still one of their best recordings,  I think. Their interpretation of this Bruce Cockburn song was original and introduced Canada to their own distinctive style that would launch their career.

7. Jolie Louise, Daniel Lanois – An old-fashioned ballad telling a tragic story. The song is constructed so simply and performed with a rustic minimalism.

8. Miss Chatelaine, K.D. Lang – Cinematically classic

9. Spot the Difference, Spirit of the West – A more mainstream sound from this group known for its classically celtic style.

10. Harvest Moon, Neil Young – One of the most beautiful compositions ever.

11. Save Me, K.D. Lang

12. Bobcaygeon, The Tragically Hip – The best Canadian song of the 1990s.

13. Hallelujah, K.D. Lang – Watch her Vancouver Olympics closing ceremony performance of this song. Incredible.