Cazz Blase listens to Laura Mvula’s debut album, Sing to the Moon, and finds there is much more to her wider output than the upbeat single ‘Green Garden’ would suggest
Birmingham singer/songwriter Laura Mvula has a degree in composition from the Birmingham Conservatoire, learned the music composition app GarageBand while working as a supply teacher at a secondary school and had a job as a receptionist at the Birmingham Symphony orchestra. All of which would tell you that there is more to her musical talents than simply being a retro chanteuse. The more complex of her songs (and many of them do have complex arrangements) sound like songs from a Sondheim musical, whereas the easiest and most seemingly simple come across like Cole Porter or Rogers and Hart. Mvula’s musical touchstones are acknowledged to be Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, but – Winehouse aside – you would struggle to hear them in her work.
Mvula’s debut Sing to the Moon opens with the impressive ‘Like the morning dew’, which features gorgeous vocal harmonies, layered to perfection, which are vaguely reminiscent of The 5th Dimension. The vocal imagery is pastoral and picturesque; the phrasing is strictly jazz, in this instance Ella Fitzgerald rather than Billie Holliday. It is reassuring to know it wasn’t just Amy Winehouse who grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald (see also Beatrice Eli). The marching band percussion towards the end of the song adds additional colour and texture, taking it to another level.
‘Make Me Lovely’, meanwhile, opens with gorgeous melancholic strings. It’s very atmospheric and simultaneously sounds like something from the golden age of Broadway combined with a particularly innovative stab at modern R&B. The lyrical refrain of “I can’t make me lovely” is assertive, but Mvula shows her skill as a vocalist by using subtleties in pitch and tone. The ambition and complexity of both her writing and arranging mark her out as someone special and it’s a brilliantly realised piece. The choir at the end chime in beautifully with the strings.
The recent single ‘Green Garden‘ is an upbeat soul stomper, albeit one that deploys unusual pastoral imagery in what is basically a wistful love song. The backing vocals are reminiscent of old 1970s vinyl and, as lovely as the song is, it’s a little misleading as a single, in terms of signalling her wider output. It would be too easy to write her off as a straightforward soul revivalist on the basis of this and she can do so much more than that…
[Image description: Front cover of Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon. This is a black and white head and shoulders shot of Laura Mvula in a high collared one-buttoned shirt, against a white background. She is looking pensively to her right.]