Rag N Bone: Classic Blues meets Contemporary Pop

In an industry dominated by auto-tuned vocals and synthesized dance beats, Rag N’ Bone Man’s guttural intonations are a breath of fresh air.

Though no stranger to the music scene, Rag N Bone Man, (aka Rory Graham) has remained largely unknown, his quivering rasp easily drowned-out by the latest chart-topper due to its lack of authenticity. Over the course of 15 years, Graham’s music style can only be described as experimental at best, oscillating between Eminem-chic raps and stale soul pop remakes. Mini-releases such as “Dog’ N Bone,” “Wolves,” and “Disfigured” punctuates his career – earning him mild praise from critics and not much else. But now, with the release of “Human,” the artist has finally found his voice… and, its power is undeniable.

Released in early February, the hit single capitulated Graham out of the depths of obscurity, winning him the 2017 Critic Choice Award in Britain alongside such notable artist as Adele and Sam Smith. But while the song’s bellowing stanzas echo Smith’s lyrical dexterity and his impressive ability to make a note linger long after the verse has ended is reminiscent of Adele’s Skyfall, Graham’s unique fusion of rootsy blues and hip-hop attitude puts him in a category all his own.

“Human,” kept off the number 1 spot thanks only to a double whammy of Ed Sheeran releases, juxtaposes a backdrop of handclaps and a twinge of Gospel choir against rhymes that ooze with angst and confrontation. Graham deliciously delivers the lyrics “I’m only human, don’t put you blame on me,” with a rebellious edge that would make even Bob Dylan jealous. Though his repetition of the main line (a common tactic used throughout the album) “I’m only human,” follows the worn-out pattern of contemporary pop, his slight changes in pitch that move gradually from tenor to a deep baritone reveal a soulful vulnerability that is unlike anything currently produced in the music world.

Graham’s debut album (released 7 months after “Human” hit the radio waves) features the same rhythmic blend of blues and hip-hop that made the “Human” great and even then some.  The songs “Bitter End” and “Skin” feature Graham at the top of his game, drawing their power from Grahams raw emoting with the former, a passionate song about unrequited love, having the best line about internal pain: “a thousand paper cuts align.” The resulting effect is both haunting and evocative of a world-weariness that reaches beyond the artist’s 32 years.

True, the album is not perfect. Much like his earlier career, Graham at times falls into his pre-”human” patterns. “Innocent Man” is ripe with platitudes that, like his EP “Disfigured,” grow old after the first verse, detracting from the energy infused with the song’s message of making amends. “Ego” written about a competition with a rival, is heavy with track riffing and wild rhyme improvisation, a throwback to his days spent as a DJ in East Sussex; though “Ego” miraculously manages to be aggressive without venturing into the realm of the profane – stating “ bang bang baby, down you fall, ain’t you Mr. Know It All.” Yet, these minor quibbles.

Graham’s visceral vocalization smooths out the rougher patches, making this slightly imperfect album worthy of remembrance. It may have taken a while for Graham to find his voice, here’s hoping that he can maintain it.

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