Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka

Listeners of Michael Kiwanuka's 2012 debut album, Home Again, could be forgiven for thinking they were hearing new music from James Taylor. Kiwanuka showed some slight jazz influences with a lot of folksy acoustic guitar, and lyrically it took up the themes and narratives of classic Americana.

As a black man from London, and given recent political and social upheaval around race, Kiwanuka explicitly picks up themes of social justice and turns toward the blues and soul sounds in his sophomore album, Love & Hate. He does this most explicitly on the track, "Black Man in a White World," sharing what it feels like and pleading for empathy: "I feel like I've been here before/I feel that knocking on my door/And I've lost everything I had/And I'm not angry and I'm not mad/I'm a black man in a white world."

Throughout the album, he does not take on the justified use of anger or rage, but rather draws the listener back to the gospel themes of forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation. On "Father's Child," he implores, "Some things just seem to take so long/I've been thinking 'bout what's gone wrong/I've been searching for miles and miles/Looking for someone to walk with me." Musically he does this with the use of gospel piano and choir and intricate string movements, although at times he uses edgy electric guitar work reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix.

Many of the songs also fit in the more general love song category, using poetry as a way to mend a broken heart, to explain relational complications, and express regrets and loss. Kiwanuka aims to win you over gently, rather than wake you suddenly from your sleep. A wonderful album to enjoy and reflect on. (Interscope)

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