Release Date: Feb 10, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Rory Graham has been honing his craft for 15 years, from his teens as rapper Rag'n'Bonez in his native Uckfield to open mic hero in nearby Brighton, where he began busting out one of the strongest modern blues vocals to ever shake the south coast. That it's taken him this long to release his debut seems strange, but in many ways Graham's story is similar to that of Paloma Faith - another homegrown talent who spent a decade knocking about with a 1950s-styled garage covers band, the Penetrators, before breaking through into megastardom. Although it took Faith a few albums to be noticed by the Brit Awards voting panel, Rag'n'Bone Man has already scored his first gong, the 2017 Critics Choice Award, following in the footsteps of James Bay, Sam Smith and Jack Garratt.
F ollowing in the lung prints of singers Adele and Sam Smith, Rag'n'Bone Man's recent Brits critics' choice award crowned the long, slow rise of a Sussex care worker from open mics to soulful industry darling. You may well have heard Human, the title track of his debut album. Kept off the No 1 spot by a double whammy of Ed Sheeran tunes, the song has already been a hit in Germany, and covered on X Factor by Emily Middlemas.
This year's Brits critics' choice winner Rag'n'Bone Man, AKA Rory Graham, has already scored a No 2 smash with the grittily soulful Human, which pairs his urban blues holler with a fat, bass-driven groove that reflects his time served in DIY hip-hop. The heartfelt, anthemic Skin is similarly big-lunged, while Be the Man and As You Are serve up contemporary gospel. At his most gravel-throated, Rag'n'Bone Man is reminiscent of Joe Cocker singing over the chunkier bits of Moby's chart-steamrollering Play.
There's been a pretty fleshy series of mini-releases from Graham up to this point; Bluestown, Dog 'n' Bone, Wolves, Put That Soul On Me and Disfigured combined contain over 30 tracks and together represent the erstwhile blues and hip-hop roots of an impressive artist. Unfortunately, this 'debut' album seems bland and formulaic in comparison to the calibre of music we've come to expect from Rag'n'Bone Man. Singles "Human" and "Skin" are due their high praise, but there seems little soul to the rest of proceedings.
One of the first albums I bought - on cassette tape no less - was The It Girl by Sleeper. It is, by any sane measure, a pretty mediocre album. The singer can't sing. The music is generic jangle pop. The lyrics are okay. I think I probably knew it wasn't amazing even as I bought it. But that's what ….
The Rag'n'Bone Man. The R'n'B Man. Oh lordy, his trouble so hard. Rory Graham has got the blues: blessed with a rich yet gritty voice, allied with a propensity for tastefully spacious hip-hop production, he's been what those in the know call 'hotly tipped' for some time now, even coming second in the BBC's Sound of 2017 poll (do they issue trophies or plaques for that? Dunno).
Heaven knows how a chunky lad from Uckfield has the balls to make a gospel record in 2017. But Rag'n'Bone Man - born plain Rory Graham - has done just that. Channelling the great, hollering bluesmen of yore (particularly his idol Muddy Waters), Rory's stentorian vocals galvanise 'Human' from the opening bars of its titular chart-topping kick off, to the stonking, a cappella audacity of set closer 'Die Easy'.