Of course ‘gospeldelia’ is a ridiculous term that sounds like something Alan Partridge might use. So it’s amusing that ‘Sing To The Moon’ was written with Partridge’s conductor sidekick and ‘the most talented easy-listening batonsman of his era’ Glen Ponder (ok, his real name is Steve Brown and he’s very talented but still…). Together they have created a debut album that is assured and inventive enough to make her plaudits seem worthwhile (and make redundant all the Partridge jokes that I had lined up).
That she studied composition at Birmingham Conservatoire is clear in the crisp orchestration and the space she gives to the offbeat orchestral soul she creates. The album glows from start to finish, starting with the burst of sunshine that is ‘Like The Morning Dew’. It’s both plaintive and panoramic and every time you get to the chorus you’re raised up as it unfurls and she sings ‘I tried to write the perfect song for you / then I realised it didn’t belong to me.’
Her voice, as clear as a cloudless morning, hints at Jill Scott and Erykah Badu; there’s a touch of Winehouse in there somewhere too. But she’s too talented to be pigeonholed next to any of those. There’s also the feel of Common in some of the textures as well as touches of more folksy acts like Fleet Foxes – she’s even been described as Nina Simone sings the Beach Boys (seen most clearly in ‘I Don’t Know What The Weather Will Be’). Not bad comparisons to have.
The futuristic doo-wops of ‘Green Garden’ bring to mind Janelle Monae, and its effortless shimmying makes it a standout. ‘Can’t Live In the World’ feels as introspective as its title suggests, though is still sprinkled with magic dust: ‘Remember how far you’ve come’ she cries, as the vocals layer up on each other in climax and a harp strums in the background. ‘Father, Father’, about the father to whom she no longer speaks, is equally as heavy but she takes the anguish of her experience to create something defiantly upbeat.
The lightness of Mvula’s touch is shown by the fact that even the most leaden songs here have a moment where they catch fire. Just take ‘That’s Alright’ whose militaristic beats feel overdone until she cries ‘Who made you the centre of the universe?’ and breathes life into the track; while ‘She’ slowly builds from nothing into a glimmering climax.
That’s the key. Unlike, say, Lianne La Havas, when Mvula is at her peak on this record there’s a vibrancy, and a beautiful eccentricity that mark her out as an artist akin to Jessie Ware, Janelle Monae and Solange. She’s able to bring elements of sounds like gospel and psychedelia together. Now, if only there was a term to sum that up.
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