Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon

When Laura Mvula was announced as one of the nominees for the BBC’s Sound of 2013 list attention turned to her debut single ‘She’, a bittersweet tale of feminine hurt and longing backed by minimal, hushed instrumentation that owed more to the bleak and downbeat moments of Nina Simone than the big-lunged over-emoting that propelled Adele’s ‘21’ or Florence’s ‘Celebrations’ to global success. With its gospel backing vocals and never-ending build-up of tension it was a technically impressive performance and a great bit of songwriting that never sacrificed emotion for bluster. Six months on and Laura Mvula is in the spotlight once more with the release of her debut LP ‘Sing to the Moon’.

Partially written whilst working as a supply teacher in a Birmingham school; Mvula was nonetheless well versed enough in jazz, soul and gospel to land a record deal with an enthusiastic RCA. As labels search for the next Adele or Emeli Sande, the addition of the soulful Mvula seemed like sound business acumen; the latest in a line of Radio 2 friendly cash-cows, yet ‘She’ offered glimpses of something more: a new Tracy Chapman or Amy Winehouse who sang about her life in such a way as to reinvent the clichés of what soul music had to sound like.

Unfortunately, at fourteen tracks ‘Sing to the Moon’ is overlong yet disappointingly short on the hard-hitting songwriting that shaded her debut single so vividly. The title track is the sort of empty torch ballad that if distilled properly would give Ken Bruce an erection but trigger a seizure in anyone who expects their music to challenge, confuse or surprise them. Elsewhere the stately ‘Father, Father’ is indicative of the gentle, tastefully arranged but ultimately shallow arrangements that take up the better part of the record.

It’s a shame ‘Sing to the Moon’ sees Mvula fail to live up to her early promise because her voice is, in itself, very impressive and when the arrangements take a turn for the left-field she’s clearly a talented composer too. ‘Flying Without You’s quirky trumpet and high-pitched delivery would sit far more comfortably on one of Bjork’s records than Corinne Bailey Rae’s and it makes you wonder if all the dreary balladeering is a product of record company pressure rather than genuine desire to sit on the Radio 2 A-list. You can expect Laura Mvula to be soundtracking John Lewis adverts come Christmas 2013 but pity her if she does because with a voice like hers it wouldn’t hurt to bare her soul a little more often.


Max Sefton

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