KUKU - The Absence of Cool (2008)

KUKU
Kuku_The_Absence_of_Cool_Album.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

KuKu is a nice guy. In the insular Washington, DC music scene where KuKu has made a name for himself as the local troubadour, one repeatedly hears this theme whenever the 6'4 Nigerian born artist is discussed. Given his pending residence in your home and heart, it's a good thing his rep proves true. The intimacy of KuKu's third release in three years, The Absence of Cool, is an invitation into this artist's soul. Given how dark, affected and downright mental many a musician can be, an invitation to peek inside is not always one you're clamoring to answer. Gratefully, the artsy, bespectacled man extending this welcome card has such a sweet disposition and unself-conscious nature that you'll gladly look to be on his guest list again and again. I'm warning you now to make up the spare room, because KuKu's going to settle in for a while.

KuKu is a nice guy. In the insular Washington, DC music scene where KuKu has made a name for himself as the local troubadour, one repeatedly hears this theme whenever the 6'4 Nigerian born artist is discussed. Given his pending residence in your home and heart, it's a good thing his rep proves true. The intimacy of KuKu's third release in three years, The Absence of Cool, is an invitation into this artist's soul. Given how dark, affected and downright mental many a musician can be, an invitation to peek inside is not always one you're clamoring to answer. Gratefully, the artsy, bespectacled man extending this welcome card has such a sweet disposition and unself-conscious nature that you'll gladly look to be on his guest list again and again. I'm warning you now to make up the spare room, because KuKu's going to settle in for a while.

On The Absence of Cool, it is KuKu's unpretentiousness that cradles listeners through this fourteen song acoustic lullaby. The album title, The Absence of Cool, is apropos for songs that are more interested in revelations than posturing. Even when KuKu's songs take on a more spiritual or socio-political bent like on "Baba Lo Lope" or "The Cure," it does so gently without the heavy-handed sanctimony and the broadcasted intimation of depth say of Lauren Hill's live acoustic set for Sony. Some misguided soulsters may draw comparisons to Hill's "Water" or "Adam Lives In Theory" after listening to "Troublelina" and some of KuKu's more lilting cuts. If a comparison can be made, The Absence of Cool has more in common with Bill Withers' 1971 Live in Carnegie Hall project in its humble efforts to expose the tender musings of the regular Joe.

An emotional exhibitionist, KuKu is comfortable being nude on a set that leaves him little room for bashfulness. There are no other instruments, no production magic, no multi-layered atmospherics, just the human voice and an acoustic guitar. Not to worry, like his vocal kin, Jon Lucien and Terry Callier, KuKu has the soulful resonance, delicacy of approach, and a keen sense of melody to meet the challenge he's set before him. KuKu also takes some risks on this folksy soul set by consistently interweaving lyrics in his native Yoruba and employing African vocal styling on these songs, including "Waba Mi Ló" and "Dark and Lovely (Dudu Osun)," always to agreeable effect. As he is apt to do in his live shows with decidedly mixed results, KuKu displays his comedic side on an acoustic version of his first hit, "Unexpected Pleasures," by performing imitations of Fela Kuti, Macy Gray, Patti Labelle, Ron Isley, Al Green, and Teddy Pendagrass. Kuku saves his best imitation, one of Louis Armstrong, for a boyish cover of KuKu's own previously recorded "Sunrise in Bed." From the silly to the loving, it is immensely satisfying to hear a male singer be this bare without needing to resort to histrionics to be expressive.

Recorded during a two-hour session with producer Alexei Tsybine Jendayi at his home, KuKu definitely exhibits growth as a vocalist from the first two albums. Having seen him in concert on several occasions, I'd always found his lack of diction distracting despite enjoying the warble of his soulful tone. On Absence of Cool, KuKu seems to have made more of an effort to be more precise in tone and pitch. The set benefits from KuKu's obvious sweat and discipline in this area. The minor vocal imperfections remaining are typical of a live recording and more endearing than annoying. Producer Alexei Tsybine Jendayi also deserves an honorable mention for mixing and engineering a recording that is bell-like in its clarity and polish. Despite its nerdy protestations, The Absence of Cool has a definite Rico Suavé sheen.

If there is a complaint to be made, it's that The Absence of Cool might have benefited from a light trim, delivering listeners an EP or a ten song album, leaving them wanting more. The minimalist nature of the project suffers from a uniformity in sound and mood that wears thin about three-quarters in, leading to an undeserved feeling of artist's meandering. KuKu's own mantra of "less is more" would have worked here. That said, it's no crime that KuKu wanted to share more rather than less of himself with his fans. You know how giving those nice guys can be, yeesh! His far-reaching generosity aside, the real crime here would be to let a nice guy this talented finish last. So, remember to RSVP this soul brother back. Highly recommended.

--L. Michael Gipson

To see KuKu do his thing live, here's a link to an hour-long Kennedy Center concert:

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/artist_detail.cfm?arti...

 
Song of the Month - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Featured Album - Nichelle Colvin - Welcome to Gary
Featured Album - Rahsaan Patterson - Heroes & Gods

Leave a comment!