MICHAEL KIWANUKA: ‘Home Again’ (Polydor)

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North Londoner, Michael Kiwanuka – who has supported Adele and played as a session guitarist for Chipmunk – is hotly tipped by the UK’s music biz tastemakers to be a big success after his recent triumph in the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012’ poll. This, his major label debut album, follows in the wake of a couple of critically-lauded EPs for indie label, Communion, and is a mightily impressive affair. Some of the tracks that he originally cut for Communion, such as the brilliant ‘Tell Me A Tale’ – an orchestrated folk-soul sermon that has palpable echoes of Terry Callier – are present on ‘Home Again.’ It exudes a strong ’70s retro vibe but it’s not an empty exercise in nostalgia.

Kiwanuka’s been compared by some with singer-songwriter, Bill Withers (during his early years at the Sussex label) but it’s a comparison I can’t hear as Kiwanuka sounds nothing like Withers. Rather, it’s a facile comparison based on the fact that Kiwanuka is a black guy who plays guitar and writes his own material and like Withers has cut his own niche and can’t be comfortably pigeonholed. He’s soulful but not an archetypal soul artist and his hybrid music touches on several different musical elements, including folk, gospel, jazz and singer/songwriter pop.

But Kiwanuka’s definitely his own man in terms of his voice and sound. And the addition of Paul Butler’s sympathetic production values makes the music truly glisten. His self-penned material is built around deceptively simple acoustic guitar chord sequences augmented by occasional orchestral embellishments. There’s a lovely and elegant simplicity about his work that is refreshing. He’s an artisan rather than an artificer and there are no false or contrived notes – and the whole thing is organic in conception and execution. ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is strident and slightly edgy while the languid ‘Rest’ is full of repose. The title track – where Kiwanuka accompanies his soulful voice with rolling guitar arpeggios – has strong folk overtones and is enhanced by gentle strings. The beautifully pensive ‘Always Waiting’ has a similar sense of introspection. By comparison, the more upbeat ‘Bones’ has shades of jazz and gospel in its musical DNA and the ballad, ‘I Won’t Lie,’ has a dark, dramatic, downbeat feel.

Unlike most contemporary CD releases, ‘Home Again’ only boasts 10 tracks and clocks in at a seemingly meagre 38 minutes. But it’s a triumph of quality over quantity, which is remarkable in an age where usually the opposite is true about CD albums. So there’s no filler and no superfluous bonus tracks. It’s a proper album, just as they used to make them back in the days when the vinyl LP was king. Ultimately, it’s a cohesive and coherent artistic statement from a young musician whose talent promises much. Highly recommended.