I’ve noticed a handful of artists these days brandishing some very nostalgic R&B sounds. Raphael Saadiq and Fitz and the Tantrums come to mind as two acts that not not only play old school soul, but sound like old school soul. British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka is the latest artist to go for that nostalgic feel, and listening to his debut album Home Again was just like listening to oldies radio.
First off, Kiwanuka has a great voice. You shouldn’t mess with soul if you don’t have the vocal chops, but chops Kiwanuka has. On Home Again Kwanuka already sounds like a matured artist, which is amazing considering he’s twenty-four years old. Often equipped with an acoustic guitar, Kiwanuka’s fusion of heartfelt soul and acoustic guitar has drawn comparisons to Bill Withers. The big difference being Bill Withers was an amazing songwriter and Kiwanuka is just an okay songwriter. Where Kiwanuka pens some tracks highly reminiscent of the good old days, there’s not a lot that really jumps out at you.
The impressive “Tell Me a Tale” leads off the album with a jazzy soul exploration (flute included). The song eventually builds to a Temptations like chorus that’s hard not to like. After that, my attention wanders as Kiwanuka breezes through slow acoustic numbers that never seem to go anywhere. “Bones” a possible homage to 60s doo-wop is my second favorite track on the album. If only Kiwanuka focused his energy more on the style of those two tracks I’d be sold. The acoustic stuff is nice enough, but it gets real old real quick.
I feel bad that wasn’t as taken with Home Again as I was hoping to be. I love whole retro feel of everything but it all comes down to the quality of the songs. Kiwanuka should learn to shift his focus more towards catchy R&B/Pop songs as opposed to slow, bittersweet, ballads. He has a better chance of excelling as 60s-esque soulman than a brooding singer-songwriter. Either way, I look forward to where his career could possibly go down the road.
Favorite Tracks: “Bones”, “I’ll Get Along”, “Tell Me a Tale”