Album of the Week: Rag'n'Bone Man, 'Human'


Rag'n'Bone Man, 'Human'
Rag'n'Bone Man, 'Human' (Columbia Records)
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Rag'n'Bone Man wears his love for soul and funk on his sleeve. Well, that's not quite accurate — it's tattooed across his knuckles. With SOUL etched into his right fist and FUNK on his left, Rory Graham (whose stage name is Rag'n'Bone Man) lets you know what to expect. As a white kid growing up in the small southern England town of Uckfield, Graham grew up on a healthy dose of his father's jazz, blues and soul records. He fell into a local hip-hop community as a teen, quickly realizing that while his ability to freestyle left the crowd unmoved, his singing voice brought them — hands raised — to their feet.

In his acceptance speech for Critics Choice at the 2017 Brit Awards (he also won for British Breakthrough Act), Graham acknowledges that people have left YouTube comments saying they assumed he was an old black guy, and he shrugs in response, "Growing up, I listened to old blues records, basically; Muddy Waters taught me how to sing." Context isn't necessary, but it's helpful in the case of Rag'n'Bone Man. Those gospel roots of the 1920s that bled into blues and jazz and was wrapped into funk and soul music by the 1960s are the educational backdrop that built Rag'n'Bone Man.

Fluctuating between soulful love ballads, blues standards, hip-hop flavored reflections about his hometown, and funkified gospels, Rag'n'Bone Man's debut full-length album, Human, pulls from several previous releases to showcase Graham's powerful and spirited voice.

Some standouts on a solid album include a song called "Be The Man," which is reminiscent of Tupac's "Changes." It's an easy, finger-snapping, Sunday sort of song about being the person you know you should be for someone else. "Ego" easily blends jazz drums with some funk horns and Graham sharing that "I know my gospel, but I ain't a preacher" and offering a taste of the free-flowing rap style that pushed him to his current success. The a cappella "Die Easy" sounds like it should be sung in front of a choir at church, negating "Ego" as Graham's emotive voice unfurls in a low rumble, "Might as well take my soul / 'cause I can't take it to the promised land / well, well, well/ So I can die easy."

Human is an emotional and moving album, at once acknowledging the deep history Rag'n'Bone Man is tapping into, and using it to contemplate his take on the suffering he sees in his current life.


Rag'n'Bone Man - official site

Rag'n'Bone Man, Human (Amazon)

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