Tag Archives: Bill Withers

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”



Aloe Blacc

19 Feb

The (Man) in the Band:  Aloe Blacc

What’s the story? So I’m 5 months too late to the ‘Wake Me Up’ party. It’s an obvious worldwide hit by Swedish DJ Avicii, and the velvety-throated dude who sings the track has even appeared on the Voice, possibly the least Unsung thing on the planet. But how many of you can tell me who that singer is? It took me a while to realize that it’s one and the same artist who gave us the social revelation that is ‘I Need A Dollar’. He’s got more r&b talent than JT, and everything he does is full of sunshine and soul. His name is Aloe Blacc, and if there is any justice in this world, he won’t be Unsung any longer.

Sounds Like: Bill Withers wearing a blaxploitation film fur coat

The gateway song: “Wake Me Up”

and “I need a dollar”

Other songs:   

“Green Lights”

“Loving You” (mostly for the awesome life affirming dancing by the little kid at 1:06)

“Shine Through”

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

Bill Withers “Use Me”

Cody Chestnutt “Til I Met Thee”

Sam Cooke “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Curtis Mayfield “Superfly”