Over the past couple of years, there has been a quiet, elegant return to soul roots music – so quiet that it is still drowned out by the blaring production of modern R&B. There has been sleeper success for Leon Bridges, with his throwback sweet 60s soul you can take home to meet your mama. Then there is Laura Mvula’s more inventive cocktail of gospel, Afrobeat and jazz which commands a solid cult appeal.
Somewhere in between you will find Michael Kiwanuka, hardly a household name but then not one to shout his soul manifesto from the rooftops anyway. Yet the global success of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album has demonstrated that there is an audience for a 21st century edition of the politicised soul funk of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott Heron, and Kiwanuka stakes his claim here with the Richie Havens-influenced stripped-back rhythmic folk funk of Black Man In A White World, which uncorks his conflicted feelings as the only black kid in his school while making a wider point about social injustice. And all of this against a backdrop of volatile race relations at home and abroad.
Love and Hate is nowhere near as hard-edged as Lamar’s offering but it is more deeply expressed than Kiwanuka’s somewhat manicured debut Home Again. Helping him in this regard is ace producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, who has unlocked something in the British Ugandan singer as well as sculpting a gorgeous, intoxicating symphonic soul backdrop for his bruised vocals.
Love and Hate ****
Ette: Homemade Lemonade ***
Louise Goffin: The Essential Louise Goffin – Vol.1 ***
Majority Of One
The first five minutes of the ten-minute opener Cold Little Heart is pure Danger Mouse, with its wilting strings, ambient choral humming and cinematic scope before we even hear Kiwanuka’s aching voice. He exhibits true vulnerability on tremulous ballad Falling, a sweet straightforward honesty on sultry (by Kiwanuka standards) slow jam The Final Flame and a simple, beseeching blues delivery over soothing, plangent guitar on Rule The World.
Father’s Child is another slowburn epic, with dynamic, sawing strings, sonorous piano and understated yet free wah-wah guitar playing which is pure Isaac Hayes. There’s not a duff track here, only the lingering niggle that Kiwanuka and Danger Mouse are so completely in thrall to what has gone long before that they may be speaking to a niche audience of soul aficionados.
Ette, a Glaswegian synth pop duo comprising Carla Easton of Teen Canteen and Joe Kane of psych band Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab, are named in honour of 60s girl groups such as The Ronettes and Marvellettes and pay overt tribute on the chiming Spending Every Christmas Day With My Boy. But none of those groups employed the services of a Jamaican dancehall rapper called Leroy “Shines” Moncrieffe on guest duties. Homemade Lemonade has more of a kick than its sweet title suggests, borrowing just as much from the less groomed girl pop approach of The Go-Gos and Altered Images, while Easton’s coquettish vocals display a bolshy edge reminiscent of a lo-fi Chvrches.
Louise Goffin, meanwhile, has 60s pop royalty in her genes, being the daughter of legendary Brill Building songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
The Essential Louise Goffin reveals her to be a chip off the block with her easy listening line in Americana-flavoured material, mixed through with the sweeping Archives, jugband jollity of Main Street Parade and psych blues torch song Devil’s Door. She sounds almost too comfortable covering her mum’s classic Natural Woman, but turns in a lovely, longing country rock rendition of the King-penned Monkees hit Take a Giant Step.
Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette ****
Of all the composers who sought inspiration through the world of theatre, Berlioz was surely one of
the most dynamic and original, especially in his transformations into music of Shakespearean drama, and there’s a gutsy profundity in such works as the “symphonie dramatique” Roméo et Juliette
that gets right to the heart of the matter.
The brusque opening is like a brazen clarion call, rich in colour and energy; and from that emerges both dramatic heat and sizzling characterisation.
Valery Gergiev directs a red-hot performance here with the LSO and London Symphony Chorus, augmented by the fresh-sounding Guildhall School Singers (as semi-chorus), with soloists Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano), Kenneth Tarver (tenor) and bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin. It’s a strong team performance, driven by earthy passion.
Sguaban à Tìr an Eòrna: Traditions of Tiree ****
Sguaban à Tìr an Eòrna – “Sheaves from the Land of Barley” – is the 27th addition to the invaluable Scottish Tradition series drawn from Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies sound archive. All made on Tiree between the early 1950s and the mid-1970s, these recordings create a sound picture of an island’s culture, history and legends. Editors Margaret A Mackay and Donald E Meek aim to make listeners feel as if they have dropped by at an island ceilidh, and there is a sense of that in the intriguing mixture of songs and recitations, with subject matter ranging from the galleys of the MacNeills of Barra to racing tea clippers, land agitation to Fingalian legend. There are Gaelic hymns, laments and elegies, puirt à beul, Hogmanay rhymes and – inevitably – songs of emigration to distant lands; even the sound of emigrant bagpipes, played on a set taken to Canada from Tiree in the 1840s.