Monday 4 March 2013

Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon

“I feel like I’m the geeky kid of R&B”.

It’s a fitting description from Mvula in an interview withThe Guardian last year.  Classically trained in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire as well as a member of Birmingham choir Black Voices, Mvula’s music is a fusion of gospel and jazz, with some old school rhythm and blues thrown in for good measure.  Yet there’s a tension at play in her debut album, ‘Sing To The Moon’, between the popular and the artistic spheres.

When the two converge, the results are sublime.  She was Mvula’s breakthrough hit last year, with its glittering celeste refrain, harmonies like drizzling honey and soft instrumentation that slowly creeps up on you.  Current single Green Garden has catapulted Mvula into the mainstream, sounding like a modernised Sinnerman (Nina Simone) meets Unsquare Dance (Dave Brubeck) with its irregular timing and handclap beats.  And the slow crescendo of the title track is enough to send shivers down the most cold-hearted of spines.  There are also upbeat tracks like the sassy That’s Alright or Flying Without You, the latter’s brass rumbles evoking the party atmosphere of Beyonce’s End Of Time.

Underpinning it all is a vocal that has been likened to old and new soul legends alike, from Nina Simone to Adele and Amy Winehouse.  Mvula caresses each melody with an effortless warmth and musicality, mostly choosing restraint over all out belting.  It’s a voice that the glossy production of a recording can’t quite do justice.  It’s worth noting that the deluxe edition of the album includes live versions and demos that are mostly better than on the album proper.  There’s also an incredible remix of Green Garden from Dave Invisible that proves the power of Mvula’s voice when applied to a totally popular style – it’s worth buying the deluxe version for this alone.

At times, though, the conservatoire education takes over.  For every immediately arresting track aimed at a serious pop audience, there’s a Father, Father (a simple gospel song that’s almost a negro spiritual, but feels irrelevant in this day and age), or a Can’t Live With The World (a meandering jazz tune).  Though musically astute, Mvula does sometimes border on lounge music.  Perhaps a more consistent album on the pop end of the spectrum is still to come – the potential is huge.  

‘Sing To The Moon’ remains, however, an album full of surprising turns.  A simple tune suddenly expands with rich harmonies; syncopated rhythms are layered in complex textures; unusual instruments coincide with sudden shifts of harmony.  Mostly, the combination of lush orchestration and velvety vocal will pour over you like rays of sunshine.  Mvula is undoubtedly a talented musician who brings a serious musicality to popular music, without losing any sense of playful creativity.  Her debut album is one that both the mainstream public and music geeks alike can enjoy.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Green Garden
* She
* Sing To The Moon

Listen: 'Sing To The Moon' is available now.

Watch: Mvula will be supporting Jessie Ware on her upcoming tour in March.