'Tuned In' review: The music varies, but KG Omulo's vocals don't

KG Omulo's 'Ayah Ye! Moving Train'

KG Omulo's "Ayah Ye! Moving Train"

KG Omulo is an “Afro-urban” music mixologist, a native of Kenya transplanted to Florida who has concocted a range of Afro-hyphenate styles — Afro-funk, Afro-pop, Afro-beat — with a heady Caribbean flavor and strains of rock and blues for his “Ayah Ye! Moving Train.”

The vibrant release, delivered in English and Swahili (and a bit of Spanish), is music of the people and for the people (think: Bob Marley), and it has a loose, welcoming feel.

However, there are two generalizations about U.S. audiences that work against Omulo. Americans tend to get impatient with overused reggae lilts (again think: Bob Marley), and they expect some kind of emoting to reflect the mood of the song.

The reggae issue isn’t major; Omulo weathers the sluggish cadences of “Ready to Love” and “Walkaway” without serious ramifications.

But the singer’s blunt delivery is emotionally flat as he apparently expects the lyrics, rather than his vocals, to reflect his intentions. Therefore, there’s not much difference in his intonations when he sings, “When people call out your name, are you going to stand and fight/Are you going to run and hide?” or when he sings, “On Cleary Boulevard is where I found love ... Baby, you are the one.”

Fortunately, the music runs the gamut — horn-blasted raw funk on opener “Intervention,” festering electricity on “No Means No,” rousing percussion on “Quality Women” and string nuances on “Stop Me Now.” And despite his limitations, the singer swaggers with charisma.

Still, on the emphatic rock-jazz closer “Do You Feel?” when Omulo sings, “Do you feel the way I feel?” you might be left wondering ... just how does he feel?

Rating: 3 stars (out of five)

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