MYLES SANKO: ‘Just Being Me’ (213 Music/Lounge Records)

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This is the third album by UK-based singer/songwriter, Myles Sanko, who originally hails from Accra in Ghana and debuted in 2014 with an LP called ‘Forever Dreaming.’ For various reasons, that particular album passed me by (though it was reviewed at SJF by my colleague Bill Buckley) but after being mightily impressed by this, his latest, opus, I’m prompted to go back and investigate his previous work. That’s because ‘Just Being Me’ is a supremely classy, soulful offering that has substance as well as polish. Sanko’s influences range from Gregory Porter and Bill Withers to Aloe Blacc and Gil Scott-Heron and though it’s not hard to detect their DNA in his music he’s managed to assimilate and fuse those elements with both his own personality and musical sensibility. What results is a sound and approach that is distinctive rather than derivative. Having a good sound is one thing but being in possession of good songs is another though thankfully, Myles Sanko knows how to pen decent tunes that marry strong melodies with a serious lyrics and meaningful messages.

From the first few bars of the opening cut – a short, tone-setting instrumental called ‘Freedom’ – it’s apparent that ‘Just Being Me’ is going to be a quality record. The first proper song, the album’s title cut, confirms this. It’s got an addictive hook and is characterized by a dynamic vocal over a simmering jazz-infused groove. ‘Promises’ ups the tempo and adds horns. It’s a political diatribe targeting lies and hypocrisy over a brisk retro soul beat. The slower, ‘This Ain’t Living,’ is even better; an anthemic meditation on modern life where Sanko pleads for “a revolution of the mind” and his soulful pipes  are framed by horns and mellow flute arrangements. ‘Empty Road’ with its string orchestra  is bleaker but haunting and there are shades of Gil Scott-Heron on the more overtly-jazz-inflected ‘Land Of Paradise,’ a propulsive slice of modal jazz whose serious message is at odds with its vibrant dance, joyous pulse. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and  Sanko proves that he can also do romantic ballads, as the lovely ‘Sunshine’ demonstrates, a song that channels the spirit of Bill Withers with its gospel-inflected simplicity.

Without doubt, ‘Just Being Me’ is a tremendous cache of songs and one that should establish the super-talented Myles Sanko as a bona fide contender in the world of soul-jazz. Look out, Gregory Porter…

(CW) 4/5

Read a review of ‘Forever Dreaming’ here: