On Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s 2012 debut, Bluestown, he was developing his musical personality. He put it all out there – blues, hip hop, soul, samples, rhythm loops –but it wasn’t anything radically different nor was it anything so outstanding that it overcame that.
Five years later, the former Rory Graham releases his major label debut, “Human,” and its12 tracks show that he’s refined the rough edges and matured artistically so all those musical elements coalesce.
Strictly going with physique, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man looks as if he should be fronting a hard rock/heavy metal act but when he sings, something akin to Bill Withers comes forth. It’s not just a matter of being pleasantly surprised by this but it brings with it the sense of a wealth of musical lessons learned.
There are modern productions touches throughout the album but the deeper he wades into the old school R&B pool the more joyous the results.“Innocent Man” and “Be the Man” have enough of that mix that the former has the depth of an aged ballad and the latter the sunshine brought on by a timeless summer single, while “Ego” sounds as if it comes from an unearthed soul collection and that a rapper discovered and inserted several lines. “Arrow” even aims for the ‘60s soul pop era.
The title track’s atmospheric textures and ball-and-chain rhythm provide the foundation for Rag ‘N’ Bone Man to confront the easy route of self-pity in favor of empathy. Going from intimate verses to bombastic choruses, “Skin” gives eternal love a no-nonsense look. Like that tune, “Grace” sounds just as radio ready.
It’s possible that so much works here because the album consists of nearly all new material. He does revive 2015’s “Bitter End” and returns to Bluestown, with the a cappella “Die Easy,” his take on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed.” Compared to the original, you can hear the growth developed over the years.
Already a chart success and award recipient in his homeland, the British soul man is primed to do the same in America. It’s not as if he’s not deserving of it.