By Kitty Empire from
Home Again, the debut album by Michael Kiwanuka, is a curious debut for the winner of the BBC Sound of 2012 poll. It may be available as a download but it desperately wants to be a 33rpm vinyl
record with a faded sleeve that first entered the second-hand record market around 1973, rather than a 21st-century artefact.
It begins gorgeously, with little flurries of flute on the minor-key "Tell Me a Tale". The producer is Paul Butler, whose day band, the Bees, specialise in this sort of expertly turned period
shading. Throughout, Butler is revealed as a key factor in making Kiwanuka something greater than just the next soul man on the UK's retro-pop conveyor belt, something akin to a hipper James
Morrison. Unfortunately, the early promise of this lush, jazzy slice of yearning isn't quite kept by the rest of the album.
Raised in north London by Ugandan parents, the young Kiwanuka tussled with his identity as a guitar-loving black kid. Until, that is, he discovered first Jimi Hendrix and then Otis Redding and
eventually found his spiritual home: a vintage Venn overlap in which soul artists, folkies and the late 60s, early 70s singer-songwriters conjoin harmoniously. Embraced by Communion Records, home
of the Mumfords, Kiwanuka was able to quit his session-musician day job (reluctantly abetting pop-grime hotshots such as Labrinth and Chipmunk) and strum more meaningfully. He is now signed to
Having spent so long as a fish out of water, Kiwanuka knows a thing or two about longing ("I'm Getting Ready," avers one song) and about the pleasures of finally coming home. The title track
starts out like prime Later With Jools Holland fodder, the sort of "quality" nodding, strumming guff that has afflicted the nation since David Gray. Then something unexpected happens: Butler
double-tracks Kiwanuka's vocal, adds a shuffling drum beat and suddenly we're in Bon Iver territory – hazy and magical.
It doesn't last. Charm exudes from songs such as "Bones", with its brushed drums, doo-wop call and response, and churchy expressions of love. But there are not quite enough of these moments on
Home Again, a record that settles into a nicely crafted, twinkly retro rut without really grabbing you by anything more vital than your lapels; tweedy, bespoke, second-hand. "I Won't Lie" has all
the trappings of a thoughtful gem in the vein of Marvin Gaye. But trappings are all they are – Butler's rumbling drums and ebb-and-flow arrangement expose Kiwanuka's contribution: his voice never
catches, his vulnerability is never underscored; he merely sings his words nicely.
Like his co-star of 2012, the Brits-anointed Emeli Sandé, Kiwanuka is undoubtedly gifted and, like her, seems preternaturally middle-aged, an old soul in a 25-year-old body whose need to appear
mature at all costs is troubling. Home Again is in no way an unpleasant record, but its unity of sound, tempo, era and purpose is less Aristotelian than it is just a little ho-hum. Unlike the
work of Kiwanuka's forebears – Bill Withers, Terry Callier et al – you don't come away from Home Again changed by its insights. Instead, you have just filled the air with some nice sounds.
01 – Tell Me A Tale
02 – I’m Getting Ready
03 – I’ll Get Along
04 – Rest
05 – Home Again
06 – Bones
07 – Always Waiting
08 – I Won’t Lie
09 – Any Day Will Do Fine
10 – Worry Walks Beside Me