DRAPED IN A cape made of black silk and raven feathers, Laura Mvula, the Birmingham Conservatoire-trained church singer, cuts a striking presence in the video to Overcome (watch below) from her second album, The Dreaming Room. Leading a troupe in a liberation dance, the 29-year-old shaven-headed singer cries out, “Take your broken wings and fly.” Behind her, a supple groove, driven by the dual guitars of Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Miles Davis collaborator John Scofield. With its echoes of Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird, it is potent, compelling, but the struggle expressed is also personal-political.
“Mvula suffers from panic attacks and monophobia – a fear of being left alone.”
Mvula suffers from panic attacks and monophobia – a fear of being left alone. As a result, Overcome and its parent album, the follow-up to her 2013 Mercury-nominated Top 10 debut, Sing To The Moon, was written in her musical director Troy Miller’s home studio, with Mvula’s personal assistant and her younger sister Dionne Douglas, who plays violin on the album, while her younger brother James Douglas adds cello, nearby.
And yet for all the interior anguish – exacerbated by, and partly responsible for, the recent break-up of Mvula’s marriage – there’s a positivity, determination and spirit, not just to this song with its compact choral harmonies and rousing strings provided by the London Symphony Orchestra, but to the album as a whole. Produced by the aforesaid Miller and recorded in New York and London, the message is writ large: “Even though we suffer, come together, be brave.”
Laura Mvula knows of no other mindset: as with Sing To The Moon, rapturous vocals are framed in intricate, ecstatic orchestral pop, a sound Mvula calls “gospel-delia”. People, a powerful spiritual featuring spoken word by rapper Wretch 32, and Phenomenal Woman, a gospel funk with analogue synths and riffing guitars, both address black identity in the West. With a nod to Maya Angelou once more, the latter, a future feminist anthem, has her declaring: “Oh My My! / Oh My she flies! / Oh My My! / Oh My she fights!”
Meanwhile, Show Me Love, one of the first songs written for the album, is a plaintive bolero that speaks of missing a lover, and as the piece builds to an orchestral crescendo, Mvula’s heart-palpitating whisper-scream-whisper turns to a wail: “You showed me love… of the deepest kind… I thank you.” The pain and self-knowledge are palpable. Kiss My Feet, a dark waltz with celeste, bluesy harmonies and dislocated beats, is just as moving: “And I’ve been waiting for you / And I’ve been lost without you / And I’ve been praying for someone like you,” she yearns.
With Sing To The Moon, Laura Mvula set a new standard for 21st century soul. With this follow-up, she’s raised that standard higher.
Get the latest issue of MOJO, (July 2016 / #272) for a Q&A with Laura Mvula. Meanwhile, the MOJO 272 cover story celebrates 50 years of Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. 22 pages of Bob coverage are augmented by Blonde On Blonde Revisited, the original album reinterpreted by a host of choice contemporary acts. For more info and contents.
It’s also available as a Limited Vinyl Edition – WHILE STOCKS LAST.
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