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Album review: Jordan Mackampa

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JORDAN MACKAMPA
Foreigner
[AWAL]

The debut album from University Of Northampton graduate/former ShoeTown resident Jordan Mackampa is finally here. Having begun playing shows around teyn circa 2014 it is heartwarming to see him reach this current level of success. The album title is a nod to his geographical journey creating a certain Otherness in him: born in the Democratic Republic Of Congo, his family moved to London, and then onto Coventry. As an adult he then enrolled for music at the Northampton uni, before finally relocating to the music biz central hub of London. 

His soulful-pop songwriting, enlivened by that wide gospel vocal that is his trademark, has been evident throughout his musical career, from the early acoustic bedroom pop recordings right through to most recent single, the R&B stomp of ‘Magic’. That song begins the album in fine fettle. His mother’s love of the great soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield is transparent here, and he effortlessly joins the historical soul throng with a crystal clear number that does not need to reinvent the wheel. His pure pleasure in the love thing carries his message front and centre.

‘Love at First Sight’ immediately drops the mood down a notch, his joy at having “found myself an angel” an evocation of the memory of the energy of those first forays in a relationship. It’s a nice song that has drawn admirable comparisons to Michael Kiwanuka, and that is no bad thing. ‘Tight’ has him an awestruck balladeer, a woven jazz-folk song that shows off his yearning lilt beautifully. Indeed this projection of yearning is perhaps his greatest gift: his emotional honesty is such that one can often feel like he’s actually singing in the room with you, rather than via some ones and zeros travelling through a cable.

Foreigner is full of catchy melodies and heartfelt lyrics; none more so than on his questioning single ‘What Am I’. A state-of-the-world ’70s Motown-y number that expresses a certain helplessness. “I watched the news this morning/Another town has fallen/The people still are fightin’/Their stories told in pictures”. It’s an anti-war song, but with a message that truly resonates in this Isolation Nation times. Another single is ‘Parachutes’, where Mackampa gently sounds like a seeker of spiritual truth within human relationships. This one, atypcially, has him regretting getting involved, his usual ‘love is all’ message taking a bit of a knock.

After a interlude conversation with his mother about his childhood development, the second half of the album begins with the title track. It’s bare bones beginning is almost Nick Drake-esque, with some delicate finger-picked guitar and solemn string quartet parts. The “I learnt the language/But I felt disconnected” musings reflecting his former unease with his place in the world. ‘Care for Your Mother’ has a Bill Withers/Al Green laidback feel; ‘Eventide’ a more contemporary minor-chord malaise. ‘Under’ is a snappy dancefloor banger that may not seen his natural territory, but let’s not forget he has a oak-strong voice that pretty much works in any context! The album closes with ‘Warning Signs’ [not the King Purple track!], and it’s an dusty, noir-indie lament that recalls Richard Hawley. In other words, stunning.

This album is such a triumph, all held together through its peaks and troughs by that indefatigable voice of Jordan’s that draws you into his [mostly] insular world. Obviously lots of people will put it on to get laid, and you can’t give much of a higher compliment than that. 

Phil Moore

Foreigner is out now via the usual digital platforms, or score a nice vinyl version from here or elsewhere

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