Kaina Castillo is a native Chicagoan born to Venezuelan and Guatamalan parents, who makes soul songs about her family heritage, first-generation immigrant status, and broken hearts. But while identity-focused songwriting positions her second album It Was A Home as an unmistakably modern record, its musical content has a timeless quality; opening track ‘Anybody Can Be In Love’ is less than three minutes, but still manages to drop hints of ’90s R&B lullaby, ’80s lovers rock and ’70s psychedelic soul before its string-drenched conclusion, and that sets the tone for the rest of the album’s first half, where Castillo’s gracefully understated, velvety voice intertwines with lush, careful orchestration that gives the songs a simultaneous luxury and intimacy, equal parts lament and positivity, and an undeniable moreishness. That’s not to say this is just genre-spotter pop, though: Castillo’s silky songwriting style and ear for melody is the record’s real secret weapon, particularly on the gorgeous title track, which immediately feels so much like a golden-age classic that you sense Jimmy Webb has found his successor.
When the album mutates in the second half – first via a Sleater-Kinney collaboration that appends rock textures to the attendant soul, delivering admirable albeit slightly incongruous Janet Jackson slink, and then with ‘Casita’’s Latin swing and Spanish lyrics (the album’s only overtly Latin American venture) – the effortless soundworld that Castillo established is shaken somewhat. That she pulls it back together with such style on closer ‘Golden Mirror’ – a sort of warped, Gen-Z cousin of Stevie Wonder’s ‘As’ – demonstrates Castillo’s songwriting tenacity and caps a record full of soft confidence. Indeed, as ‘Golden Mirror’ surges skywards, there’s a suspicion that you’ll be hard pressed to find a warmer, more welcoming collection of understated, open-hearted soul music this year.
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