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Bells and whistles steal Lara's thunder

Lara Mvula

A confident TV performance of Green Garden alerted me to the burgeoning talent of the Birmingham lass who's captured the hearts of an English music industry still grieving for Amy Winehouse.

'Fresh' is a word that covers a musical arrangement that has Mvula's soaring voice propelled by handclaps, double-bass and chorus. In our overblown autotune hell, this funky minimalism is as striking as hearing The Ramones for the first time. Kind of.

And so on to the 12-track album the 26-year old former school supply clerk terms "a mad fusion". Her studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire ensure that Mvula has her classical chops together.

She has a gift for musical arrangements that can switch in an instant from simple to grandiose, making Brian Wilson's masterpieces sound as sophisticated as Jedward.



Wilson, however, had much better songs. Too often, Mvula's tunes seem like doodles in progress. Only occasionally are they focused with intent. That's Alright is one of those.

"I'll never be what you want and that's alright," sings Mvula. "Cos my skin ain't light."

You might think of Roberta Flack singing something from the musical Oklahoma!, but chances are you'll be hearing this a lot on radio.

The anxious soul singer, who seems to be asserting herself on Make Me Lovely, is smothered by unnecessary arrangement acrobatics that evoke Annie the Musical when Nina Simone or Betty Davis (He Was A Big Freak) might be more apt.



Mvula may not be the culprit. Her debut album is produced by Steve Brown, the TV arranger who brought out Rumer's inner Karen Carpenter and cornered the easy listening market.

Sadly, this album overdoes the shimmering violins and harp glissando. Is There Anybody Out There? sounds like the odious Sixties French a capella outfit the Swingle Singers trying desperately to be hip.

Despite the parping trumpets and rat-a-tat kettle drums, Flying Without You is the sort of filler that reduces this ambitious debut and detracts from the emotional impact of the sparse Father Father. Intriguing, though. HHHII