Laura Mvula – Music Hall of Williamsburg – September 4, 2013
Neo-soul songstress Laura Mvula has quietly made a name for herself across the pond, but she’s recently found admirers Stateside, including NPR’s Stephen Thompson. He wrote, “The U.K. singer’s sonic ambition is boundless: Her intricately layered songs straddle genres, locations and eras in ways that sound entirely original.” If you’re a fan of Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu, Mvula should have already filed into your Spotify queue. Her classical training allows her to mold every inflection into a timeless voice that seems to effortlessly narrate romantic epics. She’s the like the James Earl Jones of song telling.
With an introduction of “Like the Morning Dew,” Mvula descended upon the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage last night dressed in a long hooded army green anorak. Armed with a trio of strings, drummer and a harpist, the Brit’s choral-like arrangements filled the cozy venue. She admitted the last time she was there was to see Michael Kiwanuka. Not bad company to keep with their similar soulful repertoire. Mvula kicked off her white heels, performing “Is There Anybody Out There” barefoot before smoothly making the transition into Bob Marley’s “One Love,” with the crowd immediately joining in on the chorus.
Oddly, her delivery of “Sing to the Moon” reminded me of an unrelated artist, Lana Del Rey. Mvula proceeded to perform “Diamonds” and “Father, Father” solo to a completely enamored audience. It was so quiet that only the rustling of the air conditioner could be heard before, picking up the tempo and mood, Mvula got the crowd clapping along to the upbeat “Green Garden.” As though the end were flipped to the beginning of the set, the crescendo-heavy opening of “Make Me Lovely” was worthy of a Bond-film title sequence. Unprepared for an encore, Mvula and her brother, James Douglas, on cello delighted fans with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” While singing “Reaching out/ To touch a stranger,” she received a bouquet of flowers from a fan front and center. It’s safe to say they won’t be her last floral brava. —Sharlene Chiu