British singer Michael Kiwanuka did more than just broaden his sound on his second album. He created a whole new musical hybrid: Spaghetti Western Soul.
Love and Hate, shaped in collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, offers an eccentric corollary to the Ennio Morricone scores that waft and swell through Sergio Leone’s classic westerns of the ‘60s. Both soar on grandly conceived strings and Greek chorus choirs, punctuated by shocks of psychedelic guitar. Love and Hate sets its widescreen vision from the start, opening with a 10-minute, glacially paced track that lets half its time run through before introducing Kiwanuka’s aching vocal. By then, we’re lost to his long bluesy guitar cries and the siren-like choir.
It’s a far more sweeping sound than the one Kiwanuka presented on his striking debut, 2012’s Home Again. There, the London-raised singer of Ugandan descent offered a jazz-inflected take on acoustic-soul. (Think Bill Withers following Van Morrison into the mystic.) Better, Kiwanuka’s debut introduced a voice with its own rugged texture and rich hue.
The more cinematic sound on Love and Hate references not just Morricone scores but the psychedelic R&B Isaac Hayes explored on Hot Buttered Soul in 1969. To achieve the first part of that equation, the singer made the right choice by teaming with Danger Mouse, who already offered a convincing riff on Morricone’s sound on his 2011 album Rome. References to that style may have become cliché, but Kiwanuka personalizes it through the individuality of his melodies, the dynamics of the instrumentation and his lyrical point of view.
Love and Hate captures a man who doesn’t know where he fits in the world. That inner struggle pertains to both romance and race, the later boldfaced by “Black Man In A White World.” The song reflects Kiwanuka’s rearing in the overwhelmingly white area of London’s Muswell Hill, as well as his battle to overcome prejudices about what kinds of music a black man can market. The song draws on both the intimate field hollers of the ‘30s and the progressive soul of the ‘70s. Filtered through Kiwanuka’s voice and experience, however, it all sounds new.
“Rule the World”
In the acoustic first half of this track, Kiwanuka returns to the more stripped sound of his excellent debut.
“The Finale Frame”
Kiwanuka highlights the album’s gorgeous last song with sharp stabs of his wailing guitar.