Laura Mvula is a surprise.
‘Sing to the Moon’ is a hybrid of classical, pop, jazz, and vocal perfection. The horn section provides a backbone on the title track, while Mvula’s voice sails above. Strings and drums, even harp and bass cello, complete the picture with more airy elements — the tunes never feel crowded.
The mood on her debut release is light and spacious and puts you right at home. Classical elements, like strings and horns, are still accessible to casual listeners. Layered a capella vocals drape everything in a blue mood, but don’t drag the songs down. With each listen, the layers become more clear, the songs more memorable.
Mvula, 26, is a classically trained British singer/songwriter. She started writing songs on her laptop when she was a teacher in Birmingham. She made her U.S. debut at this year’s SXSW festival.
Her voice sometimes has the twang and vibrato of the late Amy Winehouse, such as on ‘Like the Morning Dew,’ but that’s where the comparisons end.
While the CD is often dreamy and abstract, it’s anchored by the lyrics and strong original melodies, such as on ‘Make Me Lovely.’ ‘Green Garden‘ is immediately uplifting, as bright clapping and Mvula’s beautiful background harmonies carry the song. It’s an easy choice for a radio hit. The glittery and ethereal ‘Can’t Live With the World’ seems to be lifted from Bjork via ‘Vespertine’ but is nonetheless enjoyable to hear.
‘Sing To the Moon’ is not all happy times — there’s a bit of attitude as well, as on ‘That’s Alright.’ Mvula asks, ‘Who made you the center of the universe?’ to the person judging her because her skin’s not ‘light’….’I play my own damn tune, I shine like the moon.’
No argument there.
Laura Mvula, ‘Sing To the Moon’ out May 14, Columbia Records. Digital release April 16.
First single ‘She’ is available on iTunes.
Sit Up and Listen: ‘Make Me Lovely,’ That’s Alright,’ ‘Green Garden.’
Dig It or Ditch It: Dig it.