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Music Reviews

Lianne La Havas: A Cool Antidote For Late Summer's Heat

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 8:24 am

It's gotten to that point in the dog days of August where the air is stale and nothing seems to be moving. But sometimes all it takes to snap me out of a late-summer heat coma is the sound of a new and electrifying voice — like that of Lianne La Havas.

The first thing that grabbed me about the 22-year-old British singer was a curious moment halfway through a song called "Lost & Found" on her debut record, Is Your Love Big Enough? The music is moving at a stately, confessional pace. She's sharing a lot, maybe too much, about being hurt by a lover. But then the tempo falls away, and she begins a lovely vocal improvisation.

The interlude lasts only about 10 seconds, but that's all the time La Havas needs to establish her identity — to make it clear that she's not another cookie-cutter diva singing whatever is put in front of her.

Lots of her songs have clever twists in them. The very next tune on the album, "Au Cinema," transforms an overused idea — self-conscious lovers as actors in a movie — into something wondrous and fresh.

There are lots of different moods on Is Your Love Big Enough? Just when you're appreciating the sly, low-key, Nina Simone aspects of her work, La Havas turns around and belts like a TV talent-show contestant — except that her material is more substantial, her melodies more arresting.

Lately, more than a few female artists have been exploring this general terrain: setting sharply observed, introspective lyrics to music that has elements of pop and R&B. For me, what sets La Havas apart is the severe moodiness of her tracks. The album has perhaps too many songs about heartbreak, but each resonates differently — and in the best ones, she sounds almost shattered. Just watch out when she rebounds, because when she wants to, this woman can be positively fierce.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We've reached that point in August where the heat has everyone moving a bit more slowly. Sometimes all it takes to snap out of this late summer funk is the sound of a new and electrifying voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELUSIVE")

LIANNE LA HAVAS: (Singing) He's elusive, and I'm awake. Defiantly real, there's nothing fake. A mystery now to me and you. Open my eyes and I'm next to you. He says my...

BLOCK: That's 22-year-old British singer and songwriter Lianne La Havas. Her debut "Is Your Love Big Enough?" was well-received in the U.K., and it arrived here yesterday. Tom Moon has our review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST AND FOUND")

HAVAS: (Singing) Come upstairs and I'll show you where all my, where my demons hide from you.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: The first thing that grabbed me about Lianne La Havas was this curious moment halfway through a song called "Lost and Found" on her debut. The music has been moving at a stately, confessional pace. She's sharing a lot, maybe too much about being hurt by a lover, then the tempo sort of falls away, and she begins this lovely improvisation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST AND FOUND")

MOON: The interlude only lasts about 10 seconds, and that's all the time Lianne La Havas needs to establish her identity, to make it clear that she's not another cookie-cutter diva singing whatever is put in front of her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST AND FOUND")

HAVAS: (Singing) Unfold me and teach me to be like somebody else.

MOON: Lots of her songs have clever twists in them. The very next tune on the album transforms an overused idea about self-conscious lovers as actors in a movie into something fresh and wondrous.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AU CINEMA")

HAVAS: (Singing) There's no pause, no rewind. Time to find out where the story goes, sat hip to hip with the curtains close, watching ourselves au cinema. Take our positions as the cameras roll. You'll be the guy. I'll be the girl. Watching ourselves au cinema.

MOON: There are lots of different moods on this album. Just when you're appreciating the sly, low-key Nina Simone dimension of her work, Lianne La Havas turns around and belts like a TV talent show contestant, except her material is much more substantial, her melodies more arresting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH?")

HAVAS: (Singing) Got so hot in the city that I forgot everything I was looking for. Made my way to the dance floor, and I danced till I wasn't drunk anymore. So I've just got to know. I truly have to know. So you've got to let me know. Is your love big enough for what's to come? Baby, let me know. Is your love big enough for past is done? Baby, let me know.

MOON: Lately, more than a few female artists have been exploring this general terrain, setting deep introspective lyrics to music that has elements of pop and R&B. What sets Lianne La Havas apart are the emotional extremes within her songs. The album has perhaps too many songs about heartbreak, but each one resonates differently - on the best, she sounds almost shattered. And watch out when she rebounds because when she wants to, this woman can be positively fierce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGET")

HAVAS: (Singing) Forget that I'm the person tearing you apart.

BLOCK: Tom Moon reviewing the debut album from Lianne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?" And you can hear the entire album at nprmusic.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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