Word about Michael Kiwanuka started to spread last year with the release of two EPs that gave an all-too-brief glimpse of a soulful new voice in the increasingly crowded throwback R&B genre. Based on those EPs, the British singer-songwriter earned tour dates opening for Adele and later won the BBC Sound of 2012 poll. Needless to say, a few people were itching to hear his debut album, which was released stateside this month.
Home Again sounds straight out of a different era, starting with Kiwanuka's smooth vocals. The 24-year-old channels Curtis Mayfield in the opening "Tell Me a Tale," with a mischievous flute heading an orchestra-heavy backing. The playful "Bones" is along the same lines, although it has '50s-era backup singers and a piano that give it pop.
More often than not, though, Kiwanuka replaces big production with a more stripped-down, rootsy sound that relies on his voice, guitar and a solid hook. "I'm Getting Ready" and "Rest" nestle into this category and help draw comparisons to Otis Redding. That's certainly better company to keep than when he dials things down another level, like on the title track, and enters the sleepy territory of Jack Johnson. I guess even Mayfield and Redding had the occasional song worth skipping.