It’s been a remarkable rise for Birmingham soul singer Laura Mvula since she made the decision to send off two demos in the hope of escaping her job as a receptionist. It was not long until the 25-year-old’s raw talent was picked up and, in May 2012, Mvula, who has a degree in music composition from Birmingham Conservatoire, signed to RCA. She subsequently released her debut EP She to critical acclaim in November and has been hotly tipped for stardom in 2013 ever since.
Mvula came fourth in the BBC Sound Of 2013 and was shortlisted for the prestigious Brits Critics’ Choice award, with previous recipients including Jessie J, Emeli Sandé, Florence And The Machine and Adele. As well as that critical recognition, she has also been popular among her musical peers, with both Jessie Ware and Paloma Faith inviting her to join them on their UK tours. In fact, with so much anticipation ahead of her debut record Sing To The Moon, it was hard to envisage how Mvula could possibly live up to all the expectation.
The release of her uplifting second single Green Garden only added to the hype, with its enchanting harmonies and addictive hand-clapped beat combining with Mvula’s powerful vocals to show exactly why she is such an exciting prospect. “And I’ll fly on the wings of a butterfly/ high as a tree top and down again,” she sings, with her classically-trained vocals drawing inevitable comparisons with Nina Simone. Yet while all the signs beforehand were promising, Sing To The Moon never quite reaches the heights of Green Garden or She and is an underwhelming debut album.
That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad record, but it clearly suffers when compared alongside Mvula’s stunning first two singles. The album does start off well, with the gospel vocal bursts on Like The Morning Dew demonstrating just how captivating Mvula can be when her voice is backed by an orchestral arrangement. Make Me Lovely is another highlight, using beautifully delicate strings to swarm Mvula’s vocals, until a stuttering horn takes hold on the enchanting chorus. It is followed by Green Garden to round up what is a very strong opening to the album.
However, from there on in, Sing To The Moon is a much more patchy affair. Is There Any Body Out There? is painfully slow and forgettable, with the song relying on Mvula’s vocal strength to build any sort of momentum, while the cinematic soundscape of I Don’t Know What The Weather Will Be is plodding and rather lightweight. Father Father manages to achieve the poignancy and emotion that Mvula appears to be searching for elsewhere on the record, with the effective piano melody capturing the anguish of her separation with her father, with whom she lost contact after her parents divorced five years ago.
In the end, the problems that befall Sing To The Moon are the same ones that affected Lianne La Havas’ debut album last year. While Mvula has a great voice and is a skilled musician, she plays it far too safe on her debut LP. The unique and purposeful Green Garden sticks out like a sore thumb amid much of its surroundings; often it’s as though Mvula is on cruise control. Songs like the atmospheric title track and closer Diamonds are perfectly nice, but they also sound very comfortable. Laura Mvula is unquestionably destined for big things, but unfortunately Sing To The Moon only shows glimpses of what she has to offer.