Sing to the Moon on April 19, and it immediately blew me away. It is still in heavy rotation in iTunes at home and in my car, and it still sounds surprising and fresh every time I hear it. What is it about her music? Part of it is her voice, which is smoky yet clear, an extremely expressive instrument, which she indeed uses as an instrument, with all sorts of tonal colors (the vocal harmonies are unusual and seductive as well). Part of it is the songs, which have structures and melodies that are just somehow different yet catchy and somehow familiar. She is not at all like Joni Mitchell, but her songs and sounds remind me of Joni's work from Blue through Hissing of Summer Lawns. Maybe a little of Paul Simon's Graceland too - again nothing like that work, except that it stands out as truly different, yet as delicious as any comfort food. Songs that are more than songs -- fully formed musical works that sound familiar yet somehow alien. Songs that have melodies, chords, and harmonies not that different from other popular music, yet totally unique. Mvula's work is like that - hard to describe, but just so pleasing to the ears, even after many listens.
Another part of it is orchestration. I read that Mvula is or was a composition student at a music school in Birmingham, England. Her songs are not the least bit "classical," but her use of woodwinds and strings is totally organic to the songs, not simply studio "sweetening." These songs are composed, but still loose and natural. Like Ravel or Rimsky-Korsakov, she turns combinations of orchestral and vocal sounds into beautiful colors. It is not really pop, soul, jazz, R&B, world, or classical. It is Laura Mvula's music!
Yes, I'm in love. I almost wrote something about her back in April, but so much new music becomes just OK after an initial burst of excitement. But Mvula's music is like Willy Wonka's everlasting gobstopper, it just keeps going and going and going...
P.S. Check out her videos: Green Garden, That's Alright, and She. Wonderful.