When a new artist is compared favorably to some of the biggest names in music, then generally, people start to take notice. However, for those of us somewhat long in the tooth, we wonder whether, this is just the marketing department of a record company trying just a bit too hard to promote a promising artist. As Chuck D so eloquently and succinctly put it, “Don’t Believe the Hype.” All too often we hear claims that an artist is the next big thing, only for them to never be heard of again. Years later, when a music magazine does a “where are they now” article, we discover they’re stacking shelves at Wal-Mart or flipping burgers at Mickey D’s, but still wanting to get back to “doing what they love, making music.” The thing is, that so often do we hear these forecasts of greatness, that when a promising artist comes along, people shrug their shoulders and say “heard it before.” Ask yourself this, how often are a band said to be the next Beatles, Rolling Stones, Al Green or Teddy Pendergrass? Sometimes, though, these claims have some merit in them, with the artist in question having a promising future. This is the case with Michael Kiwanuka, who released his debut album Home Again, earlier this year. His music has been compared favorably to artists like Terry Callier, Bill Withers, Otis Redding and Van Morrison. After I’ve told you about Michael’s career so far, I’ll tell you about the music on Home Again.

After working as a session guitarist, Michael Kiwanuka was spotted by Communion Records in 2011. Communion Records released his Tell Me A Tale EP in April 2011, before releasing his second EP I’m Getting Ready in July 2011. In between the release of these two EPs, Michael had been supporting Adele, during her Adele Live tour. This included supporting Adele at the iTunes Festival. That wasn’t the only festival Michael played, playing at the Hard Rock Calling festival in London in July 2011. Later in 2011, Michael would make a big breakthrough, signing to Polydor Records. The next year, 2012 would see Michael win a prestigious award and release his debut album.

Having signed to Polydor Records, Michael Kiwanuka was named as the winner of the BBC Sound of 2012 award. Then the first of three singles from his debut album was released. The first was the title-track Home Again, which was released in January 2012, reaching number twenty-nine in the UK charts. Home Again, Michael’s debut album was release on 12th March 2012. It reached number four in the UK, while reaching number 120 in the US Billboard 200. Later in March, I’m Getting Ready was released as a single, reaching just 187 in the UK. I’ll Get Along was released as the third and final single, in May 2012 but failed to chart. Given the success of the album in the UK, and to some extent the US, Home Again had been a relatively successful album. However, what does the music on Home Again sound like?

Opening Home Again is Tell Me A Tale, which has a real seventies sound and feel. It’s best described as similar to the type of arrangement you’d expect to hear on an album someone like Terry Callier. Similar instruments are even used during the track. A wistful, quivering flute opens the track, before acoustic guitar, drums and strings accompany Michael’s emotive vocal, which sometimes, is delivered in sharp bursts. Then bursts of rasping horns, lush strings and percussion combine, while Michael’s vocal is questioning, frustrated even. The arrangement veers between dramatic, lush and beautiful, especially when the strings, percussion and horns are used. Although the track has a glorious seventies sound and feel, some people may say this sound is derivative. Whether you think this, the track features an emotive vocal from Michael, who wrote the track.

I’m Getting Ready was one of three singles released from Home Again. To me, it sees Michael discover his “own sound,” rather than a vintage sound. It’s just Michael’s tender, impassioned vocal and acoustic guitars that accompany him, before drums played with brushes enter. They’re accompanied by percussion and a Fender Rhodes played subtly. Later, when backing vocalists enter, their addition really lifts the track, giving it a spiritual sound, adding to the track’s beauty.

I’ll Get Along sees Michael return to his retro-tinged sound. However, this doesn’t preclude the track from being one of the album’s highlights. Here, Michael’s voice sounds quite different from previous tracks. Backing vocalists accompany him, while a cascading flute, quivering strings, guitars, piano and drums play their part in making this one of the best tracks on Home Again.

Rest has a quite understated sound and spacious arrangement. It’s just keyboards, guitars, drums and grand strings that accompany Michael. His vocal is slow, thoughtful and heartfelt. Instruments are played with a real subtly, drifting in and out the arrangement. Not once do the band overplay, always playing with a tenderness that compliments the intensity and emotion in Michael’s vocal.

The title-track Home Again was the most successful of the three singles released from the album. For the first minute, it’s just Michael and his trusty acoustic guitar. This really works well, but then when strings drift in and out, they sound like an afterthought. They’re too loud and jar. Gone are the lushness of the string sound on an earlier track. They don’t sound as they belong on the track. Maybe, if the strings were neither as sharp, sudden or loud, the track would’ve worked better. The irony of the situation is that there’s a good track trying to escape from the arrangement.

Bones sees the album heading in another direction, taking it’s reference points as jazz, soul and doo-wop. Drum provide a shuffling beat, while strings quiver and shiver, before guitars enter. When Michael’s vocal enters, it’s delivered in the same style as on I’ll Get Along. His calls are answered by backing vocalists, whose style has been influenced by soul and doo-wop. Meanwhile, a piano, percussion strings and drums are key to this jazz-tinged track’s sound and success.  By the end of the this retro sounding track, you can’t help but be won over by this track which features some thoughtful lyrics from Michael.

As an acoustic guitar accompanies Michael on Always Waiting, instantly you realize that something quite beautiful and almost spiritual is about to unfold. Backing vocalists augment his vocal, while strings, percussion and piano combine. A welcome addition is the double bass which works much better than an electric bass would. Multi-tracked backing vocalists and graceful strings combine as the arrangement grows. By then layer upon layer of pensive, elegant and beautiful music wash over you, cleansing you with its near spiritual qualities.

When I Won’t Lie begins, the arrangement quickly unfolds to reveal powerful swathes of music. Again, there’s a spiritual side to the music, with rasping horns, crystalline guitar and broody strings offering musical contrasts. Michael’s vocal is louder, reflecting the confusion and frustration in his vocal. Backing vocalists are deployed effectively, before waves of music rise and fall, like waves crashing on a beach. Sometimes, Michael’s vocal almost reminds me of Jeff Buckley, with a similar power and emotive delivery, especially on a track so powerful and moving as this.

Chiming, jangling guitars, a pounding bass and percussion combine with Michael’s impassioned vocal as Any Day Will Do Fine begins to reveal its hidden depths. Blazing horns, lush strings, twanging, jangling guitars and percussion provide a backdrop for Michael’s emotive delivery. Briefly, backing vocalists sweep in, but their grace and subtly is underused.  They could’ve improved this dramatic, poignant track, transforming it into something even better.

Closing Home Again is Worry Walks Beside Me. Like the previous tracks, Michael wrote it. His vocal is powerful, laden with emotion and hurt, while guitars and drums combine, to provide a spacious backdrop. Later, waves of backing vocalists and Hammond organ enter, adding to the drama and emotion of the track. Strings add a melancholy sound, while a piano adds to the moodiness of the track, as guitars and Hammond organ reverberate. Not only does it seem that Michael Kiwanuka has kept his best track for last, but it’s another track where you hear Michael’s own sound. This isn’t a homage to one of his heroes, but the real Michael Kiwanuka standing up and letting us hear what his music is about.

Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again is an accomplished collection of songs written by Michael and produced by Paul Butler. When I first heard the opening track Tell Me A Tale, I was instantly struck by its glorious seventies retro sound. Straight away, I heard similarities with artists like Terry Callier. Now, much as I love music from the seventies, and loved Tell Me A Tale, artists revisiting the seventies for inspiration risk their music being called derivative. Two other tracks, I’ll Get Along and Bones both have been inspired by the past. Having said that, both tracks really work, sounding thoughtful and beautiful. Tracks like I’m Getting Ready, Rest, Always Waiting and Worry Walks Beside Me are much more representative of Michael’s own sound and style. Quickly, you’ll realize that Michael is a talented songwriter, with his lyrics being variously pensive, thoughtful and spiritual. They provoke a variety of emotions and thoughts, which good lyrics always do. Of the ten tracks, only one, Home Again doesn’t really work. That’s purely because of the string sound, which to me, just doesn’t work. This is strange, because Paul Butler’s production works on most of the other tracks. Occasionally, you feel that an arrangement is a bit crowded, but mostly his productions compliment Michael’s vocal, playing an important part in the album’s commercial success. Overall, Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again is an accomplished, polished album that contains some compelling, quality songs. It’ll be to interesting to see how Michael Kiwanuka’s career progresses from here. Will he live up to the hype that surrounded the release of Home Again? Only time will tell. Standout Tracks: I’m Getting Ready, Always Waiting, I Won’t Lie and Worry Walks Beside Me.


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