Jessie Ware and Laura Mvula are two new British soul singers with claims to a place in your record collection and life.
The two are U.S.-bound next month after touring the U.K. together. It was a treat for all who attended.
Both Ware and Mvula have released debut albums and both are receiving rapturous notices. It is true that, in the post-Amy-Winehouse-and-Adele age, any British woman with a decent voice and soulful sound can trigger paroxysms of uncritical adulation.
For Ware and Mvula, the praise is as warranted as the comparison to warbling compatriots is spurious.
Ware’s debut album “Devotion” mixes Sade’s impeccable soul with cutting-edge electronic sounds. It will be released in the U.S. in April with an appearance from rapper A$AP Rocky.
Ware is like a Bugatti cruising an upmarket corniche: She delivers power with smoothness. Her voice is controlled even when suggesting torrid ecstasy in songs such as “Wildest Moments.”
Ware dresses in black heels and a long bronze skirt, her black hair scrapped back to emphasize large hoop earrings. Her composure doesn’t extend between songs. As soon as the music stops, Ware gabbles away as if the audience were all her best friends, three drinks into a gossipy catch-up at a local bar.
At one show, she chides her mother for leaving the VIP seats and joining the main crowd, cackles about her boyfriend’s hair loss (he quickly gets an apology) and announces that a song called “Sweet Talk” was written “after a curry in Bristol.”
The live concert has added AOR muscle compared to the electronic finesse of the record. A drummer and bass player generate sexy grooves. Sly guitar licks tease with the sound of Hall and Oates. A multitude of samples and sounds are triggered from multi buttoned gadgets. The near-perfect single “Valentine” shimmers with emotional delicacy.
Laura Mvula’s music is more in keeping with soul tradition. The 25-year-old plays with a six-piece band, including a violin, cello and harp, to create a golden warmth.
Her voice has the glow of Terry Callier and is strong enough to declaim her winding melodies. Her shaved head is covered with a long olive-green drape, reminiscent of singer Erykah Badu.
Such nominally retro stylings belie the innovative song-writing. Bewitching chord sequences abound. Mvula, a former teacher, is influenced by Ravel and gained a degree in composition from the U.K.’s Birmingham Conservatoire.
While her songs occasionally veer from the pop-obvious into more convoluted pastures, Mvula never lets her studied techniques restrict her easily soulful heart. Complex vocal harmonies are sprinkled with a hint of Swingle Singers levity.
The single “Sing It to the Moon” manages to be a pop trifle and a masterpiece of subtlety, grace and invention.
Rating: Both ****.
Ware plays shows in continental Europe, including Berlin, Brussels and Paris this month. On April 3, she opens her U.S. tour at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Information: http://jessieware.com/live/
Mvula will be playing a clutch of U.S. dates later in April including New York’s Mercury Lounge on April 23. Information: http://www.lauramvula.com/
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris arts, Patrick Cole on charity and Elin McCoy on wine.