Sunday, April 29, 2012


Gentle, trilling, echoed flute is the first thing you hear on this stunning debut.  The first words come in after some acoustic guitar, "Tell me a tale that always was...".  It's a timeless, classic soul voice that at once puts you in mind of, say, a Bill Withers.  Strings and horns join in to this lush production, and you have a return to a time when class, as in classy, meant something. 

British singer Kiwanuka is certainly a throw-back, with his arrangements, vocals and mindset clearly on fine music from the 70's, 60's, even the 50's.  But more importantly, this is the return of song craft to the best music being made today.  Throw out the tired, alternative guitar rock from whoever is hot today, this is the reaction to years of beauty and melodic composition being ignored.  There's nothing here that isn't pure and real, from the stunning, yearning vocals, to the tremendous blend of strings, woodwinds, horns and percussion.  It's like Kiwanuka left the street in 2012, and walked through the door to Philadelphia International's studio in 1972, or caught up with the Capitol Records studio cats in L.A. late one night in '65 when they wanted to get into something a little more funky.

Now, I know millions of you love Adele, but this is much more special and true.  Kiwanuka is the sole writer, provides all the guitar and bass and brilliant harmonies, and has a power over hearts and minds with his voice.  I've never heard someone so calming.  Listening to him is like taking a bath after a long, stressful day.  It's the ultimate mellow album at times, but has so many beautiful moments even the most cynical will have to nod their heads and smile at the many deft touches.  The unashamed retro number Bones sounds like a long-forgotten Nat King Cole side, with its jazzy guitar, call-and-response vocal choir, and rolling rhythm, complete with brushes on snare and clip-clop percussion.  On other numbers, his mournful acoustic guitar is reminiscent of those early Leonard Cohen songs, there's that level of drama here too.

There's ten songs on the main album, each one a winner.  The disc also comes with a bonus 5-track EP, songs recorded with another producer, Ethan Johns, featuring two quite different versions of songs from the album proper, and a further three that aren't on the original, and again, each one spectacular.  There's lots of excitement in England for this disc, and I truly hope you get to check it out, I can't rave enough about it.

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