Laura Mvula – review

Tabernacle, London

She has been acclaimed as a rising star of 2013, but at her first headline show, Laura Mvula sounds less like soul music's second coming and more like Miranda. "Oh my gosh. Wow," she says, her heavily made-up eyes wide with surprise. "I wasn't expecting this. Won't cry. Let's move swiftly on."

Its not surprising Mvula is overcome. The former secondary-school supply teacher is celebrating the release of her debut album, Sing to the Moon, with a six-piece band that includes her sister, Dionne, on violin and brother, James, on cello. Her mum, looking on, also earns a mention. "Thanks for putting up with not just me, but the two of them," Mvula says, casting a conspiratorial look at her younger siblings.

Mvula's strong ties to her roots are reflected in her music. A shimmering blend of jazz, gospel and pop, it confounds as much as it comforts, her rich vocals taking unexpected journeys over lush "sound sketches", as Mvula calls them, shaped by the classical training the 25-year-old received at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Wearing a long white shirt-dress, Mvula glows from behind a red keyboard for Like the Morning Dew, the rush of choral harmonies giving way to her clipped delivery and soft, twinkly notes. Swathed in harp, strings and double bass, she sounds a bit like Amy Winehouse singing Jens Lekman, the whimsical, warm melody never allowed to overshadow the down-to-earth attitude. Military rhythms march through the intimacy of She and the non-album track Let Me Fall, while Is There Anybody Out there – played live for the first time – features trumpet blasting over a melody that has a haunting loveliness reminiscent of the Stingray end-credit song, Aqua Marina.

Mvula is the cool, collected centre of this fluid instrumentation. She restricts her movement to a few fluttery arm gestures and keeps far away from the overemoting beloved of X Factor contestants, while her voice is pure and heartfelt on the painfully personal Father Father and utterly silences the awestruck crowd. She's even better on the upbeat songs. Joyful handclaps, a chiming melody and churning groove mark out Green Garden as something special; her next single, That's Alright, is a hymn to empowerment that could well become a summer anthem. All in all, an emotional night. "I'm trying not to cry," Mvula says, trying to take in the excited applause and appreciative cheers. She had better get used to it.

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Contributor

Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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