Canadian musician AHI (pronounced “eye”) cites Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Tupac Shakur as the artists he most admires. Listening to In Our Time (Thirty Tigers/All Eyes) I hear strains of yet other legendary performers: Marvin Gaye and Richie Havens. AHI channels the social consciousness of both late artists through the soulful singing of Gaye and the folky earnestness of Havens.
Gaye’s melding of soul and social criticism on What’s Going On produced one of the greatest albums in popular music, and In Our Time is the closest anyone has come to emulating Marvin. When AHI’s remarkable voice belted out the powerful opening lines of “Breakin’ Ground,” I got chills. It’s simply gut wrenching; this could be the most heartbreaking Americana song of the year.
In one respect, though, AHI is more like Havens than Gaye. Gaye was smooth and subtle in his writing. AHI is straightforward and earnest, all heart. On “Breakin Ground,” he sings “I’ve been told I’m worthless / So much that it gives me purpose / And I took the creative license / To believe that it means I’m priceless.” AHI’s lyrics are the writing of a folk singer writing for a soul singer.
On his FAQ, AHI writes “I’m a songwriter-singer but…Maybe I’m Alt-Folk, Indie Pop, Indie Soul, Adult Alternative, or even Americana.” These categories are not entirely exclusive, and AHI’s music could be characterized as any of them. I am less strict about policing genre borders than many; much of my favorite work defies genres. This is an excellent and important album, and deserves to be approached with an open mind. However, if you’re an Americana fan who insists that all Americana be twangy, this album won’t be to your taste.