MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
One year ago, Laura Mvula was an aspiring composer working as a receptionist for the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England. Now, she has a hit album in that country. One gushing writer even called her the new Adele.
Mvula's debut album, "Sing to the Moon," comes out today here in the U.S. and critic Oliver Wang is also gushing about it.
OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: The very first notes on Laura Mvula's new album feel like a powerful invocation. You're not sure for what but the moment is awesome, with the emphasis on awe.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE THE MORNING DEW")
LAURA MVULA: (Singing) I die for you like the morning clouds, like the morning dew that goes away. I die...
WANG: On paper, "Sing To the Moon" may seem like yet another album by a young, big-throated British singer but it sounds like practically nothing else out there. It's not exactly pop or soul or jazz. It's all those things, yet transcends those things. Over the course of the album, you might be swept into the intimacy of an after-hours speakeasy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FATHER, FATHER")
MVULA: (Singing) Don't try to fight, don't let me go. You've gone too far from what I know. I lost my heart in the dark with you...
WANG: Find yourself clapping along at a Manchester all-nighter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN GARDENS")
MVULA: (Singing) Take me outside, sit in a green garden. Nobody out there but it's OK now...
WANG: Or thrust onto the stage of an old-time cabaret.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE ME LOVELY")
MVULA: (Singing) I can't make you love me. You can't make me lovely. Please don't try to hold me down. It's over now. I will go where you can't find me...
WANG: The album's baroque, velvet textures and atmospheric ambiance perfectly complement the lush, smoky curls of Mvula's voice. But even more mesmerizing is how this former choir director sublimely weaves her bandmates' voices with her own, helping to make seven people sound like seventy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SING TO THE MOON")
MVULA: (Singing) Hey there you, never going to see a day when your world will change. Sing to the moon and the stars will shine over you, lead you to the other side. Sing to the moon and the stars will shine over you, heaven is going to turn this time...
WANG: Perhaps befitting a songwriter still in her mid-20s, Mvula mostly probes the complexities of love sought, fought, won and lost. But she wraps these familiar themes with enough mystery and metaphor to make "Sing to the Moon" feel deeply romantic while avoiding the boilerplate cliches of dime store romances.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS")
MVULA: (Singing) Waiting for a day of change to come and you're beautiful, dancing in a gloomy store...
WANG: Very little on "Sing to the Moon" sounds like it's overtly designed for commercial appeal. There are no over-the-top diva ballads or fist-pumping club beats. Instead, Mvula and her group produce a debut that's ambitiously distinct and confident, as if they had perfected their sound years ago but only now decided to share it with everyone else. What begins like an invocation ends up feeling like a revelation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLYING WITOUT YOU")
MVULA: (Singing) He was a boy in love, just not with me. I did not see how hard it would be to love alone without another, crushed my heart I fell to pieces...
BLOCK: We're listening to Laura Mvula from her album "Sing to the Moon." Our reviewer Oliver Wang is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach. He also writes the audio blog Soul Sides.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLYING WITOUT YOU")
MVULA: (Singing) Lost my soul and even though I wasn't enough for him back then. I wonder how it would've been. I'm flying without you. I'm fine now without you. I've found something better I love more than ever...
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