Album review: Michael Kiwanuka – Out Loud! (Polydor)

A fabulous live recording of some incredible performances.

Michael Kiwanuka is one of those artists who begs the question, how do you get this good by the age of 30? It’s not as though he has been making music for that long, his first release was in 2011 and this is only his third album. But it’s a damn powerful performance that was recorded live in 2017 and released on vinyl for Record Store Day last month, fortunately Polydor have had the sense to make it available as a download, they should really put it out at high res.

Out Loud! Finds Kiwanuka at largely London venues in front of his home crowd. He grew up in the leafy burbs of Muswell Hill with parents who fled Uganda when Amin came to power, his first forays into the music world were as a guitar player but he kicked off a solo career that saw him supporting Adele before signing to Polydor. Since then he has garnered a stash of awards and his music has been used in various American TV series, they clearly know a singer of calibre when they hear one.

Kiwanuka’s style has been compared to Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and the much underrated Terry Callier but that is because he crosses the soul rock divide so well. This much is apparent on the five tracks contained on Out Loud! which doesn’t sound like many but the total playing time is close to an hour, so you get your money’s worth. In fact you get it from two tracks alone, Black Man in a White World and Father’s Child.

But the opener gives you a good idea of what to expect, it starts with quiet strings that build to a guitar intro of considerable class before the sound explodes when the drums come in over three minutes later, Kiwanuka doesn’t open his mouth for another three minutes and throws down the jam in persuasive fashion. One More Night is a solid, more rocky track that provides a strong contrast to the main course, a full nine minute version of Black Man in a White World that starts with voice and hand claps and builds up to the full band. It segues into an instrumental bridge that builds tension before the backing vocals start to repeat the title refrain, taking the level down and getting the audience worked up before coming back up again. It’s proper lump in throat stuff that transcends the barrier between performer and listener to create a powerful emotional impact.

After that you need a rest and Tell Me a Tale provides it in an unusual arrangement that changes in tempo and style making it seem like two different songs knitted together, with some nice organ highlights and a quiet vocal scat with keys and percussion. Father’s Child takes the emotional pitch up again when the quiet keyboard interlude changes the tempo and vibe before Kiwanuka cranks up the soul power with backing vocals coming in like horn stabs. The way he uses volume is nothing short of masterful and when the drums start to climax the crowd go wild, the tears start to stream and you can only sit back and bathe in the long keyboard denouement with some artful noodling from the guitar when the audience’s excitement level rises at seemingly random intervals for a bit more more atmospheric punch.

Out Loud! is a great recording of some incredible performances, I for one will be looking out for the next tour.

Jason Kennedy


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