“Gospel-delia” is the rather ham-fisted label which some commentators have pinned to Laura Mvula’s music. Her brand of slick, soulful R&B is heavily drenched in jazz and hand-clappy gospel beats, beautifully constructed layer by layer with simple, complimentary elements which slot together like the pieces of a puzzle.
Growing up in the Birmingham suburbs, a young Laura Mvula first sang with the a capella group Black Voices, set up by her aunt in 2005. Mvula quickly branched out into the community and by 2009 was director of the Lichfield Community Gospel Choir and a regular contributor to other local projects.
Her gospel background comes through on her debut album Sing to the Moon but never overpowers Mvula as the central focus. On first single “Green Garden” for instance, a classic gospel backing underlies the track but surrenders centre stage to Mvula’s astonishing vocal, one that ducks and dives all over the track’s sharp but simple groove. The album is full of these deliciously straightforward hooks, planted on top of Mvula’s gentle piano chords. The hymn-like “Father, Father” is one of the most sparse tracks on the album with room only for a climbing piano progression and Mvula’s emotive vocal line ‘Father, Father, please don’t let me go’.
Mvula trades ballad for beats throughout the record, shifting the mood at her will. “That’s Alright”, the most undeniably joyous moment on the album, appears after a run of three sombre tracks, lifting the energy with triumphant brass blasts and delicious hum-along vocals. This is Mvula’s answer to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, as she turns her cheek to a selfish former lover: ‘Who made you the centre of the universe? Who made you judge and jury over me?’. The second half of the album really comes alive after “That’s Alright” raises the curtain. “She” and “I Don’t Know What the Weather Will Be” form a beautiful couplet, further showing off Mvula’s neat arrangements.
Lyrically, this is where the album’s narrative begins to take shape as well. Mvula tells the story of a blossoming romance which began with a strength of feeling fresh ‘like the morning dew’ before she comes to realise the other person wasn’t quite the angel she had envisioned. The middle part of the album deals with the sense of loss and uncertainty created, before “Sing to the Moon” and “Flying Without You” soundtrack Mvula’s triumphant resurgence: ‘I’m flying now without you, I’m fine now without you, I’ve found something better I love more than ever’. The closer “Diamonds” acts as a retrospective on her experience, her self-assurance and pride overcoming any trial life might throw at her: ‘Sometimes the grass ain’t greener on the other side; Maybe the sky is clearer in another place; But you got diamonds under your feet; But you got diamonds in your heart’.
Sing to the Moon is a beautifully produced and neatly crafted album, which both earmarks Laura Mvula as a future hot property and stands alone in its own right as a masterful work. Mvula takes the music of her roots and moulds it for a new generation with a handful of streetwise R&B hooks fitting perfectly alongside her sumptuous vocals. One of the finest British debuts in recent years.
… Jack is listening to Bonobo – ‘The North Borders’