Album review: Laura Mvula's 'Sing To The Moon'

Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse are among the lofty comparisons that have so far been made to Birmingham singer Laura Mvula. She recently insisted that "with utmost respect" she ignores such comments, but acknowledges as a newcomer the need for musical points of reference. 
A likeness to the greats arose when Mvula released 'She' last year, a slice of minimalist soul backed by a cooing choir and twinkling xylophone that nods to Billie and Nina as well as her personal fondness for choral music. Like them, her voice rarely reaches belter mode, instead remaining quietly composed yet still utterly compelling. That said, the ease of which she conquers the stirring strings on opener 'Like The Morning Dew' proves there's plenty of power in her.

Far from simply templating trad-soul, Sing To The Moon is packed with unexpected arrangements - the result of her degree in music composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire and later teaming up with producer Steve Brown. Hand claps and marching band drums on latest single 'Green Garden' build so subtly you'll hardly notice your foot tapping along, while she flits from confident on the bassy 'Make Me Lovely' to vulnerable on 'Father Father' - the latter a barely-there piano ballad built around the heartbreaking hook: "Father please don't let me go."
The intricacies in production mean little here is instantly satisfying, but getting accustomed is rarely a chore. 'Can't Live With The World' initially feels plodding but eventually blossoms into a sunny jazz number, and a degree of patience is required until the climax of title track 'Sing To The Moon'. The exception is 'That's Alright', where over perky beats and rumbling drums she quips: "I'll never be what you want and that's alright/ I'll play my own damn tune." Fortunately for us, Mvula knows exactly what she's doing. 

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