RAG ‘N’ BONE MAN
I don’t know that I believe this.
This isn’t entirely the fault of Rory Graham, the big, tattooed Englishman who performs under both a serious beard and the apostrophe-rich name Rag ‘N’ Bone Man.
He has a deep, strong voice that on a song such as Be The Man has the kind of resonant bass that harks to the glory days of Motown’s “boy” groups. And he can bring some huskiness to the fore that at least hints at the likes of Joe Cocker such as the free-standing spiritual of Die Easy.
The songs have a solid sense of soul well studied: passion is reinforced; hurt is a constant subtext; the sense that the church is never too far away permeates everything. You can almost taste John Legend at times.
From Legend it’s not a bit leap to get that Graham understandably also has a grasp of the kind of pop ballad that now comes as standard for people like Hozier. So a song like Grace touches you in all the right spots and Arrow catches you on its hooks.
Let’s not forget too that the hip hop/soul of someone like Mary J Blige underpins Ego and The Fire in particular.
Meanwhile, Human is washed through with roots in rock too wash that positions it as a bit rougher, a bit more “real” than the smooth young men also reviving soul, which is where the Cocker comparisons strike home even more than in his voice.
So, Graham is doing his bit and it’s not his responsibility if there is a degree of cynicism accompanying my interpretation of it. But still, there is a degree of unbelievability about Human that I can’t put my finger on but nags away at me throughout the whole album.
It’s not his voice that’s fake or the constructions that don’t hold together. It’s not the lyrics as such, though they are less personal on not-so-close inspection. Maybe, rather than unbelievability, what I am feeling is the sense that this is altogether too studied.
Is that his fault or mine? Is he supposed to somehow sound spontaneously arrived at? Fair point. But I think if you’re going to sing soul you have to convince from the hard-life boots up and these boots are very neatly stitched together.
It may take a second album to establish whether Rag ‘N’ Bone Man is a simulacrum or a sustainable artist. For now, I remain sceptical.