Brown, it’s all brown. Brown, orange, mustard, gold ochre. Earth tones – the album artwork is all earth tones; nostalgic, warm and earthy 1970s earth tones.

But in this case, to paraphrase another popular 1970s signifier, Brown is (definitely) BeautifulMichael Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, is earthy, rich and fertile all the way through. Even its title, Home Again, has a golden-hazed loveliness about it. The 24 year old UK singer-songwriter’s voice is deep brown too – the brown of chocolate, cocoa, old wood, long-loved leather. You could climb into the gnarled arms of this album and look down on the silly-speeding world, protected by the haze of an eternal late-Autumn afternoon.

Kiwanuka was one of UK mag MOJO’s artists to watch in 2012. And while MOJO often tends to get a little hot and bothered over anything that remotely whiffs of the fragrant 70s, their taste is, in the main, pretty impeccable. It is understandable that they went for Michael Kiwanuka – this album could easily have been the singer-songwriter hit of 1971, ranked alongside Carole King’s Tapestry or Jackson Browne.

I personally hear it as in the groove of Sixto Rodriguez’s Cold Fact or Donny Hathaway before the hits – an urbane and urban (urban in the original sense, before hip-hop urban) masterpiece of soul-folk with one sandal in the street and the other in the garden. Like Rodriguez, Michael Kiwanuka’s voice seems the voice of experience, not bitter, just full and knowing. Its old-wood and sepia timbre lends each song a lot of weight, and they are heavy songs to begin with.

Opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is a jazz groove, but a la Astral Weeks – open and flowing, complete with brass, flutes and a gnashing tenor sax solo by Gary Plumley over the coda. Very lush, very full, none of the album seems over-produced. Producer Paul Butler has gone for a gorgeous, chart-friendly sound in the full knowledge that Kiwanuka’s songwriting and delivery will always keep the material deep and real.

From ‘Tell Me A Tale’ the album drops down a gear or two, and stays there – Home Again unfolds at its own pace, the main focus being to frame Kiwanuka’s ochre voice and deep-rooted songs – the Paul Simon-like shuffle of ‘I’m Getting Ready’, the country-blues of ‘Rest’, the lovely finger-picked title track, ‘Home Again’. 

‘Bones’ has a strangely distant sound about it – distant in both space and time – when I listened to this haunted ballroom tune I felt like I had dropped the needle on a scratchy Sam Cooke 45 unearthed from a garage sale. Quite gorgeous, topped off by the touching and humble line ‘Without you I’m just bones…’

By the time I arrived at the closing track, the minor blues ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ I realized that Home Again – like Back to Black or even Adele’s 21 – is not a nostalgia trip; it just doesn’t seem to give two shits about the current way music is made (whatever that may be). Like those two monster albums it deserves to be a significant and enduring hit. And like poor Amy and rich sweet Adele, Michael Kiwanuka has a voice that is of the ages, unforgettable.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net

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