A few months back i wandered into my local CD store to browse around. There was a soul record on the soundsystem, and i sat there bouncing around listening to it. It was perfectly in the spirit of all those old Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, and Temptations records i own. But i didn't recognize any of the songs...
I asked an employee and was pointed to this record, which was made just last year.
Michael Kiwanuka is British of Ugandan descent, and apparently he was a session guitarist in the UK before getting the chance to record his own work. And it turns out that he has a voice that is rich, with a bare hint of vibrato. And he knows how to use it too, displaying good range on the ten songs on this record.
To put it simply, Kiwanuka has absorbed all of the best soul of the last several decades and distilled into a concentrated form. I bet if you put this record on for your parents, they would think it was something they heard on the radio in the 70s. Wasn't one of these songs on the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction?
That is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. I grew up listening to this kind of stuff and really enjoy it. People who are not as familiar with the genre might not be impressed with its deep retro sound.
For those who like this type of music, there is much to enjoy here. Personally, my favorite track on the record is Bones, which moves at a shuffling pace with brushed drums and a nice backing vocal bit, a chorus echoing Kiwanuka's lines and singing "oooOOOh" behind his voice. It is head boppingly fun as Kiwanuka works his pipes.
Also of note is title track Home Again, which starts with Kiwanuka picking at the guitar and singing lightly, before strings swell up around him to nice effect. This reminds me of old Otis Redding tunes, and yet at the same time there is a hint of Simon and Garfunkel here, in his deep voice and the supple guitar picking.
I am also really impressed with album opener Tell Me A Tale. Here, Kiwanuka starts the record with his best foot forward, wailing away powerfully over an orchestral soul song. The horns soar behind him as he belts it out, spitting the words forcefully. It really swings too, when the strings come in on the chorus and the band saunters along.
So, yeah. If you like old soul records, then you should hear this.
And yet... there has been a good deal of this type of stuff lately, from Ruby Velle to Sharon Jones to The Dynamites ... Sure, i like this stuff, but at what point does it become "too retro"? At what point do we go from simply revisiting past sounds to being the musical equivalent of those Civil War re-enactors who sit around and argue about whether or not the type of buttons on a costume is "authentic enough"? Is my enjoyment of these records just a part of my slow decline into fuddydom?
Well, i have no answers to those questions. They are things that i will have to think about longer. However, if you want to hear someone with a lovely, rich voice sing new songs in the spirit of old soul, then Home Again is a great purchase.