Confidence is a lot like public art, in that when it appears in its proper form, it’s as if it was always there. It doesn’t sound like it now, but there was a time when Michael Kiwanuka needed to be convinced.
It took Jimi Hendrix to show him a black guy could play guitar. And it took the bold, line-blurring aggression of Nirvana and Radiohead to kick-start the passion. Lastly, it was a rare, stripped down version of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” to show him the direction.
Now, to hear Michael Kiwanuka sing (at the scant age of 24 no less) is to hear a rich, soulful voice that sounds as if it was poured out by an expert barman – slowly, confidently and without hesitation. His debut single Home Again (out March 23, Communion Records) sounds amazingly like an unreleased Bill Withers album – all that’s missing is the crackle from the vinyl.
Yes, he’s indebted to the progenitors of soul – who isn’t – but his style is hardly reductive. There are flashes of brilliance, subtle but stellar. The opening title track starts straightforward enough, with Kiwanuka, a guitar and a tapping foot. But the song builds after about a minute into a star-pocked skylight via a full string section. “They Say I’m Doing Just Fine” is at once heartbreaking and breathtaking.
Kiwanuka boasts the timeless and crossover appeal that, with just a three-song single, will soon make him a household (or at least Starbucks counter top) name. Take this an an invitation to go Home Again and re-energize your soul.