Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Michael Kiwanuka / Vijay Kishore / Tara Chinn @ The Yardbird, Tuesday 25th October 2011

What a bill. What a bargain too. Free. That’s a bargain in my book. Yep, thanks to the good folk at Birmingham Promoters tonight’s show presented three of the best voices in the business right now, for absolutely bugger all. Result.

Despite a self confessed obsession with melancholy songs (most of which seem to about break ups and crappy men) Tara Chinn’s set left me feeling like I’d been wrapped up in a duvet and fed chocolates for a week. That’s a very good thing by the way. She’s got a soulful, jazzy tinge to her voice, perfectly suited to the anthems for the broken hearted that form the core of her self penned material. All of the songs impressed but it was Cigarettes and Gin that stole the show. With echoes of the legendary Patsy Cline and Billie Holliday it’s the greatest song Amy Winehouse never wrote and tonight Tara’s vocal on this track just dripped tears. Beautiful stuff.

Next up the angel voiced Vijay Kishore, arguably one of the most understated talents you’re ever likely to see. Whilst most singers, especially ones as special as Vijay, would kick off their set with a bit of a “Hello The Yardbird, how ya doin’ out there...nice to see you...looking good etc”, Vijay just wanders on and begins to strum his guitar like he’s tuning up or something. It’s only when he opens his mouth that you know the set’s underway. Even then you’re not sure. Maybe it’s this lack of razzamatazz that’s holding him back (come on, let’s face it, he should so much bigger than he is right now)? It certainly isn’t his voice. Vijay’s blessed with one of the most heavenly male vocals on the planet, imagine a more angelic Jeff Buckley crossed with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and you’ve got some idea of the sound. Seemingly lost in music throughout yet another stunning set you get the impression that singing’s a kind of therapy for him. Anyone who tunes in to listen might well feel the same way...

Last up, and frankly a huge surprise to catch someone so obviously on the cusp of massive success at a freebie gig on a damp Tuesday evening, it’s Michael Kiwanuka. You might’ve heard one of two of his tracks already, especially the folky I’m Getting Ready and Tell Me A Tale (the twin highlights of tonight's set)...which sounds so authentically 70’s on record you’d swear it’d just been unearthed by some obsessed crate digger in the US. Bringing a little reggae, a little folk and whole load of soul to the table Kiwanuka’s music’s a much needed salve to these troubled times (as I write this the European...and quite possibly the global economy...seems on the brink of total collapse). In other words it’s a case of right sound, right time and, whilst it’s far too early to herald his as yet unreleased debut album as a classic, judging by tonight’s set the signs are good. Kicking off with the distinctly Bill Withers-ish I’ll Get Along (Michael makes no secret of the fact that Withers is a huge inspiration to him) its laid back charm and his easy delivery chill the stressed out soul and warm even the coldest hearts. Unusually for a gig (especially a freebie) the packed out room was generally as quiet and still as St Paul’s, not many artists these days command (or receive) that kind of respect. Of course this is a bit of low key tour, warming up the world for the full on Kiwanuka experience at a later date no doubt, so all of the songs were stripped back, just Michael on guitar and his buddy on bass. Without its frankly top notch Van Morrison meets Stax production Tell Me A Tale was still awesomely fine but I couldn’t help yearn for the icing on the cake. Perhaps that’s the only mild criticism I can level at tonight really (the upside is that get to hear the voice as naked as newborn), I kept wondering just what all of these tracks are going to sound like on record (or with a full that’s a mouth watering prospect). Get that right and, with these songs and that vocal, you’ve got a debut that’s going to be well worth raving about.

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