Tag Archives: Alabama Shakes

Michael Kiwanuka

21 Apr

The  (Man in the) Band:  Michael Kiwanuka

What’s the story? Back in 2012, I went to go see Alabama Shakes at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were the hyped band of the moment: retro-roots soul-rockers set apart from rest of the crowd, largely due to their lead singer – Brittany Howard, a powerful charisma of Joplin inspired wailing and magnetism. She also was (and is) a black woman fronting a band of white dudes playing guitars, something not often seen and heard. Less heralded, but also on the bill that night, was a young black man named Michael Kiwanuka. I was startled to see him outside the front door of the Ballroom grabbing a smoke while I waited in line to get inside.  No one recognized him; he stood alone and looked very much out of place, and indeed a million miles from his home in the UK. But I remember that he looked so vulnerable and….lonely. So unlike the feeling he exuded in his music – that of a comfortable weekend midday in the sun. Songs like Bones and Home Again are as omnipresent in your local hipster-fied coffee shop as they are in your mother’s gentrified interior design store; most would recognize them or hum along, but I’m guessing doilies to donuts, they couldn’t pick Kiwanuka out of line up. So why do i mention the colour of his skin? The singer himself has struggled with his identity and his audience, and it wasn’t until the 2016 follow up to his brilliant debut album that we got a real sense of the slow burning dissatisfaction inside. Just listen to Black Man In A White World:

Goddamn. When was the last time you heard something with such a relentless groove that actually said something so relevant and resounding? For crying out loud, I’m a white man in a white world and i will never begin to understand, feel, appreciate, sympathize, emphasize the context, but it makes me wish i could. A song like this is triple threat: a declaration, a protest, and a statement of fact. It is brave and vulnerable all at once.

Perhaps out of ignorance or discomfiture, I initially overlooked the album Love & Hate, expecting and perhaps hoping for more of the same softness and soul as his previous work. It wasn’t until I started watching the twisted Big Little Lies (HBO couple drama at its most blatant) that its opening track, Cold Little Heart, another Kiwanuka composition, wove its way into me. Produced by Danger Mouse, the songs on Love & Hate expand the singer’s range and style to become cinematic. Now we get to experience the dark and light, and now i know we’re all be the better for it.

Sounds Like:  Shaft got his heart broken by Society and its Girl

The gateway songs: 

“I’ll Get Along”

“Waiting Around to Die”

“Cold Little Heart”

If You Like These Songs, Check Out:

Goldford “Ray of Sunshine”

Bill Withers “Use Me”

Leon Bridges ‘Coming Home’ album

Isaac Hayes “Walk On By”




21 Nov

The Band:  Houndmouth

What’s the story? There’s a nice little sub-movement happening in rock and roll right now – mining the rich folk and roots sound of the late 60’s. Breakout stars like the Lumineers, Alabama Shakes and the inescapable Mumford and Sons have already captured hearts and minds – and now comes this foursome from the Mighty Midwest with punchy guitar licks, pulsing organs, a rolllicking backbeat and lyrics that would make ol’ Bob smile. Debut ‘From The Hills Below The City’ is  a cracker and upcoming new album is expected to make the retreaded rock n’folk road worth travelling down again. 

Sounds Like:  A Last Waltz with your favorite old pair of boots and the girl you just can’t keep

The gateway songs: 


“On The Road”

“For No One”

Other songs:   

“Comin Around Again”


“Come On Illinois”



 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Deep Dark Woods “Charlie’s Coming Down”

Justin Townes Earle “Harlem River Blues”

Alabama Shakes ‘Girls and Boys’ album

The New Basement Tapes “Down on the Bottom”

The Band “The Weight” (but you knew that already didn’t ya?)

Alberta Cross ‘The Thief and the Heartbreaker’ EP

Bob Dylan “Only A Hobo”


May Days

10 Jan

Instead of an album or band, this month I’m sharing my current faves. Everyone does top 10s, so Unsung goes the extra mile with 11 and some background:

1.       Alejandro Escovedo – “Always a Friend”. This guy is a favorite & friend of Springsteen, the songwriter’s songwriter type. Hopefully he will become famous so his name can overwrite ‘Alejandro’ by Lady Gaga in my mind. Alee Alee Aleee andro! (May you have this song in your head all day now J )

2.       The Temptations – “Get Ready”. I was reminded about how uplifting this song is via Shaquille O’Neal on NBA TV. Thanks Shaq. Yes, all middling post players past their prime are on a first name basis.

3.       Samantha Savage Smith “The Score”. Inventive video. This Calgary charmer has some good buzz at the moment. Also check out “You Always Come To Mind”.

4.       Michael Kiwanuka- “I’m Getting Ready”. Soul soothing. ‘Nuff said.

5.       Television “Venus”. For all those Strokes fans out there, this is their obvious influence. An obscure but highly regarded 70s new wave punk  band from New York – they could be an Unsung all their own – check out their debut Marquee Moon.

6.       Alabama Shakes- “I Ain’t The Same”. Why haven’t you bought this album yet?????

7.       Beck – “I Only Have Eyes for You”. In the running for best cover of the year. Beck continues to carve out an impressive career. The shebop-shebop took me back to that Fugees sample from The Score which is also damn good….calling Lauryn Hill, where are you?

8.       GusGus “Within You”. Give this one a chance…it burrows into your heart and sounds like not much else. Love the symphonic kick in.

9.       Justin Townes Earle – “Harlem River Blues”. This guy had an electric performance on Letterman last month. With a namesake of Townes, he may be doomed to a life of unsung potential, but he’s cleaned up and making southern soul and rock that is the perfect blend of his father and Van Zandt.

10.   Charles Bradley “Stay Away”. James Brown’s angry uncle. Ragged, rough and in your face. Dig it. Also check out “The World Is Going Up In Flames”

11.    College “A Real Hero”.  This is from the movie Drive….which may have been overly simplistic but a stylistically perfect film, with a fitting ambient soundtrack. And, of course, Ryan Gosling, a real hero for kicking ass instead of whispering sweet nothings and taking his shirt off. Sorry girls. Did I ever tell you I was once likened to Notebook-Era Gosling? It’s true. Call me.

*ahem* Enjoy your MayDays!


Alabama Shakes

5 Jan

The Band:  Alabama Shakes


What’s the story?:   They hail from the small town of Athens, Alabama. They don’t look like a band any record label would promote. And they don’t sound like anything on the radio. Old soul meets rock & roll and a voice that tells you freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.


Sounds Like:   The lovechild of Al Green and Janis Joplin conceived after a night of just enough Jack Daniels

The gateway song:   “I Found You” listen at http://alabamashakes.bandcamp.com/

Other songs:     

“Hold On”

“On Your Way”

“You Ain’t Alone”

If you like this, check out these bands/songs:

Etta James “I’d rather go blind” RIP

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings “100 Days, 100 Nights” album

Paolo Nutini  “Coming Up Easy” and “No Other Way”

Kings of Leon “Back Down South”

Otis Redding “My Lover’s Prayer”