Album Of The Week

Caribbean queen

Expect to be stirred by London singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas' rich and sweet vocals

Lianne La Havas (left) has been described as the most striking female voice to emerge from Britain since Adele.
Lianne La Havas (left) has been described as the most striking female voice to emerge from Britain since Adele.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

George Bernard Shaw once said: "My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right way to say, and then say it with the utmost levity."

I do not know whether London singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas is a fan of the Irish playwright, but she certainly embodies his axiom.

Listening to Blood, the follow-up to her Mercury Prize-nominated debut Is Your Love Big Enough (2012), one marvels at the remarkable ease with which her voice flutters and dips and soars. It doesn't immediately commands attention, but quietly earns it.

Mostly, the instrument rides the delicate melodies as if out for a surf or a sky dive. You'll go along with it, taking it for granted, until one minute 50 seconds into the sixth track Midnight when she hollers, Florence Welch-style: "So come now, hurry hurry/Don't miss this train."

The effect is startling. It is stunning how that syrupy vibrato segues into that stentorian bellow. No wonder Prince is her fan, with an American reviewer once calling her "the most striking female voice to emerge from Britain since Adele".



    Lianne La Havas

    Warner Bros/Nonesuch

    4/5 stars

The song sums up her specialness, a call to folks to join her on a midnight train to somewhere magical. She's like the happy-go-lucky sorority girl who is secretly a geek.

And so, you do. She may ply the same trade as, say, fellow Britons Corinne Bailey Rae and Laura Mvula, but there's something transgressive in the way she refuses to be pigeonholed. She's always on the move.

The album pays homage to her Greek/Jamaican heritage, with the song Green & Gold epitomising her peripatetic curiosity. "I'm looking at life unfold, dreaming of the green and gold/Just like the ancient stone, every sunrise I know/Those eyes you gave to me, they let me see where I come from," she sings, gladsome, as nylon guitars are strummed, gliding along a jaunty bassline.

The music is a beatific bricolage of R&B, neo-soul, pop and indie folk. It's warm and slick yet feels homespun, gently alluding to the Caribbean love for syncopated rhythms, even if the production is by a stellar roster comprising Paul Epworth, Jamie Lidell, Matt Hales (Aqualung).

If sexy mama Sade has a chirpy, smart niece, then La Havas would be it. She revels in astrophysics, comparing a burgeoning love affair with the cosmos in Unstoppable, with percolating beats and synths shoring up her sunkissed vocals. "Our hearts collide/Can't escape the magnetic side," she purrs, buoyed along by love.

In quieter climes, her brilliance shines through. Wonderful zeroes in on the tingling emotions between lovers: "You can trip, flick like a thief/ Break the circuit between us/But electricity lingers/In our fingers," she whispers close to your ears.

It rests on a simple piano chord, a finger snap and a fairy dust of strings. Nothing is rushed. Everything is felt. You stir.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Caribbean queen'. Print Edition | Subscribe