herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Lianne La Havas

Three years ago, Lianne La Havas stepped out of her role as backing singer for Paloma Faith with Is Your Love Big Enough?, a debut album that referenced jazz, folk and contemporary R'n'B.

La Havas was clearly a special talent. Prince was listening and invited her to Paisley Park for a jam.

So, credentials solid, La Havas didn't rush this new 10-track collection. The weekly corporate A'n'R meetings must have been interesting as tracks emerged from a variety of producers, each one with a convincing pedigree.

I count half a dozen, including current reggae fave Stephen McGregor, and Mark Batson, whose CV includes Alicia Keys.

Having so many cooks in the kitchen risks wrecking the broth, but Lianne's musical personality can withstand the pressure.

With parents who came from Jamaica and Greece, La Havas had been to the Aegean Sea, but not the Caribbean, until a few years ago. The experience of discovering her mother's side of the family, and relations she didn't know she had, prompted meditations on her heritage, her life journey and sense of self. These thoughts inform most of the lyrics on Blood.

The close on the microphone Green and Gold, with its walking beat, nails the conundrum, bringing together both Greece and Jamaica. "I'm looking at a life unfold, dreaming of the green and gold, just like the ancient stone, every sunrise I know…"

Unstoppable, the only Paul Epworth track on the album, is both the opening cut and the first single. Paul makes hits. The groove here is unrelenting and a winner but, despite the woozy intergalactic imagery, there's too strong a hint of an advertising jingle from the "We are unstoppable" hook line, which quickly becomes an irritant.

Oddly, the stand-out tracks are the ones which sound less premeditated. "Baby can I hold you, it's such a cold, cold night," La Havas sings on Tokyo, a mid-tempo 80s Jam and Lewis-style soul groove.

The intimate vocal performance on the gentle Wonderful (written with Hales and Lawrence) echoes the heyday of Minnie Ripperton and Linda Lewis.

With its clattering rhythm attack, Grow is an unexpected blast of La Havas channeling her inner Sinead. It doesn't prepare the listener for the power-industrial thrust of Never Get Enough with loudhailer voice. The album closes with Good Goodbye, a gorgeous acoustic guitar and keyboards love lament which, so heartbreakingly soulful, it should come with a box of tissues. HHHII

(Warner Bros)

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