Album of the week: Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

MICHAEL KIWANUKA ... Home Again (Polydor/Communion)
MICHAEL KIWANUKA ... Home Again (Polydor/Communion)

MUCH has been expected of this debut since the 24-year-old from North London won the BBC’s prestigious Sound of 1012 poll.

And, for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint: it’s 10 tracks of smooth, soul music inflected with jazz and folk.

Born in Muswell Hill to Ugandan émigré parents, Kiwanuka was brought up in a home from which music was largely absent.

His first introduction to rock (Nirvana, Radiohead) arrived at the same time as he began to hang with skater kids in his early teenage years.

Later coming across a soul compilation given away with a music magazine, he was enthralled by the sound of Otis Redding’s studio talkback discussions with his engineer while recording an outtake version of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.

From this point on, he resolved to make music that sounded raw and authentic.

Kiwanuka’s key musical touchstones include Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Shuggie Otis, Roberta Flack and Bill Withers.

Though deeply into soul and jazz, he found real inspiration in the cross-pollination of the two styles with folk in the music of Bill Withers.

Beginning to perform on the acoustic circuit around London, he quickly attracted interest and made connections.

His manager won the attention of Communion Records, the label that released the singer’s first two acclaimed EPs, Tell Me A Tale and I’m Getting Ready, in 2011.

Both EPs – as with Home Again – were produced by Paul Butler (The Bees) in his vintage equipment-stuffed basement studio at his home on the Isle Of Wight.

Together, the pair played almost every instrument heard on the album, with Butler’s intimate, detailed production perfectly matching Kiwanuka’s visions for his songs.

The album starts slowly with what, for me, is one of the weaker tracks, Tell Me A Tale.

But it soon picks up pace with the rolling soul groove of I’m Getting Ready.

The record really hits its stride with third song I’ll Get Along, while Rest, which follows, slows the pace and shows Kiwanuka’s expressive voice at its finest.

For me, it is the album’s standout moment.

In places there’s lush instrumentation, and a real stripped-down feel in others, but every song is arranged so it shows off that silky voice.

Songs like Bones and I Won’t Lie manage to strike a balance between being contemporary and utterly timeless at the same time.

This album is a real treat for anyone who loves sweet soul music, and it gets better with every listen. 8/10. GW