His first hit single "Human" was released on Columbia Records in July 2016. It peaked at number one in the Official Singles Charts in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. It was certified Gold in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.
His debut album, also entitled Human, was released on 10 February 2017. The album opens with the song Human, the single Skin, and has tracks produced variously by Two Inch Punch, Jonny Coffer and Mark Crew.
Following in the lung prints of singers Adele and Sam Smith, Rag’n’Bone Man’s recent Brits critics’ choice award crowned the long, slow rise of a Sussex care worker from open mics to soulful industry darling. You may well have heard Human, the title track of his debut album. Kept off the No 1 spot by a double whammy of Ed Sheeran tunes, the song has already been a hit in Germany, and covered on X Factor by Emily Middlemas. Rory Graham – Rag’n’Bone Man’s civilian name – has received the congratulatory call from Elton John that means he’s arrived in the big league.
A plea to consider other people’s troubles, this ode to vulnerability finds a 32-year-old channelling all sorts of rootsy goodness. There are handclaps and gospel touches, all of which recur on his debut album, also called Human. Machines are present here, in the form of beats, keys and producerly filigree, but the emphasis is all on Graham’s no-filter emoting.
You might describe Rag’n’Bone Man’s appeal as one of honest grit over Auto-Tuned fakery, of time-honoured classicism over plastic evanescence. Another view might boggle at the ossified tastes of the UK listening public, unable to countenance the validity of songs about 21st-century lived experience played on machines. We remain dependent on UK pop heavily skewed towards American roots music, fed to us again and again in slightly different iterations. None of this is Graham’s fault particularly: he wanted to be an MC, but people liked his south coast bluesman better. The producers on this album – Mark Crew from Rag’n’Bone Man’s previous EPs, plus Two-Inch Punch and Jonny Coffer – know exactly which levers to pull in order to keep everything moving along mellifluously. Strings mass, vinyl crackles and some minor key piano plinks dolorously.
Skin is an unrequited love song even more striving than Human, one of several tunes that imagine the singer’s untimely death (Die Easy is another). Everything is cranked up to 11 on Rag’n’Bone Man’s affective amp. Odetta – presumably the civil rights-era singer – “saved this young man’s soul”. Bolstered by the empathic swells of gospel singers, Bitter End features the album’s best line about internal pain: “when a thousand tiny paper cuts align”. Rag’n’Bone Man may appeal to a higher authority in his songs, but he carries his own gravitas too, in a tattooed 6ft frame and bruised holler.
So it’s a good job that Rag’n’Bone Man has the kind of righteous roar that could breathe life into the phone book, because this album spools together a set of reliable tropes with little in the way of topspin.