20th February 2012
If you know anything about Michael Kiwanuka, then you probably started reading this review wondering how many words would go by before there was mention of the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012’. In this case, it’s thirty. Given the list’s formidable alumni – past winners include commercial heavyweights Adele, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J and 50 Cent – it’s little wonder that Kiwanuka, this year’s victor, has become the focus of intense media scrutiny.
Opening proceedings at the Ruby Lounge are The Staves, a trio of Watford sisters who themselves have experienced no shortage of acclaim, from providing backing vocals for Tom Jones to being headhunted by illustrious producers Glyn and Ethan Johns. Their involvement with those producers is just one reason why comparisons with Laura Marling are inevitable; their ability to conjure the spirit of folk music from both sides of the Atlantic is impressive and the outrageously charming three-part harmonies bode well for their imminent debut record.
Speaking of debut records, tonight provides the crowd with a first listen to material from Kiwanuka’s forthcoming Home Again. They mark an expansion on the sound that made his name, on a number of singles on fellow Londoner Ben Lovett’s label – Lovett being better known as one of Mumford’s Sons. Kiwanuka’s performance tonight veers between the brilliant – ‘I’m Getting Ready’ is a devastatingly soulful effort that recalls a mellower Al Green – and the bland, with a mid-set lull raising questions about album filler that won’t be answered until the record’s release. In terms of raw talent, there’s a strong case for Kiwanuka’s emergence on top of the BBC heap – his voice tonight is consistently impressive and occasionally breathtaking in its soulfulness – but it’s hard to wonder whether the artists he saw off might’ve had something more groundbreaking to offer than ‘soulful singer-songwriter’.
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