I wonder what it must be like, as a singer just starting out, to be compared to Curtis Mayfield? Or Bill Withers? That’s some accolade, an undeniable ego stroke. But chuck in Al Green, Terry Callier, and say – Shuggie Otis, and you’ve got yourself the ingredients of a tall order. Maybe one you’d struggle to live up to?
In the short space of time since his debut EP dropped, Michael Kiwanuka has been likened to all the aforementioned golden greats. Post-Winehouse (RIP) there’s been some pretty beige, highly hyped, new / old soul offerings. Perhaps you’d be forgiven the raised eye-brow when hearing about the latest young buck supposedly channeling the spirit of sixties Motown, Stax or Atlantic. But y’know what, after hearing Michael Kiwanuka’s ‘Tell Me A Tale’ the laundry list of past classics is difficult to avoid. More to the point – the combination of reference points sounds right, rather than the casual banter of a journo with a deadline looming. What I’m trying to say is – actually he’s pretty ace.
The press release to accompany the record states “With Michael Kiwanuka, it’s all about the voice”. Fair do’s, he’s definitely got some lungs on him, but let us also mention: proper song-writing ability, an ear for killer melodies and some pretty mega musicianship. Sorry about this Mike, but I’m going to go 1-up on the scary ego-stroke stakes… do the horns on ‘Tell Me A Tale’ sound a bit Fela to anyone else? Paul Butler of The Bees produced the record, coating studio proceedings in a richness perfectly suited to the rootsy, soul songwriting. Valve amps and tape or Pro-Tools and plug-ins? Who knows. Either way, it sounds right. The feel is Mr Kinwanuka’s found his reach… fine and dandy… classy… cool and unaffected. Did we mention Michael’s 23 years young?
Michael Kiwanuka’s ‘Tell Me A Tale’, is out now. His second release, ‘I’m Getting Ready’, should be with us in September.