Album review: "Home Again"
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, June 15, 2012
Michael Kiwanuka is only 25 but sounds as if he has been making music for decades. And that’s exactly what he intends. The singer-guitarist’s debut album, “Home Again,” mixes soul, jazz and folk in a largely successful attempt to simulate an overlooked early-’70s gem that eventually became a collector’s item.
The London-born son of Ugandan parents, Kiwanuka has a strong, resonant voice that would suit upbeat R&B stompers. His taste, however, is for gentler material. A Mumford & Sons protege, Kiwanuka plays folkie-style acoustic guitar. The album’s deft production -- by Paul Butler of the similar retro-minded Band of Bees -- features lounge-style piano, wispy flute and fluttery strings over a laid-back rhythm section. A few tunes even recall Ray Charles’s pioneering experiments in mingling soul and country.
But the songs reveal Kiwanuka to be less seasoned than he sounds. His lyrics, mostly on romantic and religious themes, are bland. And the melodies meander, dependent on the arrangements for most of their flavor. The contrast between saxophone and flute enlivens “Tell Me a Tale,” and a gospel chorus brightens the twangy, shuffling “Bones.” Most of the rest of “Home Again,” however, is pleasant but vague. It’s elegant background music that’s less compelling in the foreground.