U.K. native Rory Graham -- better known by his stage name, Rag'n'Bone Man -- has been making waves in Europe (with his leading single "Human" hitting No. 1 in multiple European countries), but the bluesy rocker is just starting to cross over to the U.S. market. However, if his sold out show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on March 9 is any indication, he'll become a household name in no time.
The singer originally began his career as a blues singer, then transitioned his way to a hip-hop sound. With his breakthrough album Human, he has found a way to bring those genres, as well as a little more soul and rock, into a new sound for him.
"I [played blues music] for a while and felt kind of restricted by it. I started looking for something else, and found it in hip-hop and writing my music over beats," Graham tells Billboard. "I feel music differently at different times. Being in the hip-hop scene in the U.K., I was put in a box, and I was restricted in a different way [than when I was singing blues]. I wanted to write songs from the ground up, I wanted to sit at a piano and build around that. But I still have a lot of love for hip-hop so I want to do more collaborations in that sense."
Taking the stage dressed in an all-black t-shirt and jeans combo and backed by a four-piece rhythm section, Graham immediately commanded the audience's attention. He greeted the audience saying, "It's really my f--king pleasure to be here in New York. This is my first show in New York. This is my first show in the U.S., actually." He then introduced his first song, a Louis Armstrong tune his mother used to sing to him called "St. James," which he played acoustically self-accompanying on guitar.
From there, he continued the rest of his show with a completely unfiltered, unapologetic attitude, dropping F-bombs and drinking out of audience members' cups. He made fun of his own songs ("This next song is really f--king miserable. I'm not here to cheer you up," he said before "Lay Your Body Down") and his label ("This song is the next single off my record… If my label will put it out. Oops, did I say that out loud?," introducing "Skin"), even giving a cheeky wink to the representatives from his U.K. label who were sitting in the balcony.
He also included some subtle political messaging throughout the show, introducing "Life in Her Yet," by talking about "strong women in [his] life" (just a day after International Women's Day). And before "As You Are," he asked the audience, "Is anyone happy and content at the moment? Because I am. I feel like we need a little bit of that in the world we're living in right now."
Though he isn't embarking on a full-length U.S. tour, Graham is taking his show to Los Angeles, then to the SXSW music festival in Austin. He is also set to perform on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which will air Tuesday (Mar. 14).
Lay My Body Down
Life In Her Yet
As You Are
Fade To Nothing