Michael Kiwanuka (photo by Phil Sharp, PR)
Love & Hate
Michael Kiwanuka is an artist of distinction. He is a troubadour possessing a warm voice that can be comforting and sensitive or powerful and emotive. He is a songwriter with a vision that goes well beyond his years.
With the release of his second album, Love & Hate, Kiwanuka demonstrates an ability to broaden his scope and spread his creative wings. Kiwanuka, a Londoner whose parents are from Uganda, released his first recordings five years ago. In 2012, he emerged with his first album, Home Again. Like any new artist, Kiwanuka was compared to others: Van Morrison, Ray LaMontagne, and an vocalist he deeply admired, Bill Withers. But Kiwanuka also carved out his own niche. His heartfelt songs possessed a dynamic blend of expressive soul and passionate wordplay.
On Love & Hate, Kiwanuka shows that he is capable of much more. The folky soul of Home Again laid the groundwork for his burgeoning career. For his second album, Kiwanuka enlisted the type of talent that would help him reach the next plateau. Producers Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, and Inflo were recruited to oversee the sessions.
The ten-minute epic “Cold Little Heart," which opens Love & Hate, is a cinematic opus with strings, choir and soaring guitars. It’s as if Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On has been merged with Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. It’s not until halfway through the song that we finally hear Kiwanuka, singing words of both despair and determination. Similar heights are reached later in the album on the majestic “Father’s Child.”
Throughout Love & Hate, Kiwanuka reaches inward; although he sings out loud, he is actually ruminating. He struggles to exorcise the demons filling him with feelings of loneliness and doubt. Sometimes he reaches an impasse, but he always faces these skirmishes boldly and confidently. On the expansive title track, he sings, “You can’t take me down, you can’t break me down."
Later, the uptempo pacing of “One More Night” gets offset by the dark hopelessness of “I’ll Never Love.” Perhaps the most moving and powerful moment on the album is “Black Man In A White World,” a striking song of racial injustice. Here Kiwanuka sings, “I’m in love, but I’m still sad. I found peace, but I’m not glad.” Frustration, anger, resignation, and empowerment are intertwined in this monumental song. The powerful blues of “The Final Frame,” featuring Kiwanuka’s blistering guitar playing, gets down to the bone and ends the album with emotional fury.
A considerable amount of time was taken in crafting Love & Hate, and the result is a modern day masterpiece: a daring, powerful, and beautiful album displaying Kiwanuka's considerable talents.
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