"Overcome," a Startling New Single
By Yonatan Collier
At present, Laura Mvula is not that well known in the States, but that could be about to change. The British singer has just released "Overcome," the first single from her forthcoming album The Dreaming Room, and it is an incredibly confident return.
The 29-year-old singer grew up in Birmingham, where she later attended the Conservatoire, leaving with a degree in composition. She worked in a series of jobs over the following years, including as a substitute teacher in the city's schools. In 2007, in the aftermath of her parents' separation, she began working on a set of songs that would later become her 2013 debut, Sing to the Moon. The album was rapturously received by critics in the UK, praised both for its deeply personal subject matter and for its musical creativity. It's a daring collision of influences, ranging from Björk to the Beach Boys, Gershwin to Michael Jackson. She picked up a raft of awards nominations in the following year, and won two MOBOs, beating Jessie J and Rita Ora to the Best Female Act prize.
This critical adoration never quite turned into mainstream commercial success, however. Sing to the Moon peaked at number 9 on the UK chart, while the album's biggest single, "Green Garden," got to number 31. This was hardly a commercial disaster, but many felt that Mvula deserved to do better.
Her next move wasn't exactly out of the Mainstream Popstar's Handbook though: in 2014 she re-recorded her entire debut album with The Metropole, a celebrated Dutch jazz orchestra known for historic collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.
This singular vision has won her a devoted fan base, and perhaps this next album will tip her over into the mainstream, despite the fact that it still looks set to be an intriguing and unusual listen. A collection of celebrity fans and collaborators can only help in this respect. Sam Smith has been tweeting about her new single, a track that features the inimitable guitar playing of Nile Rogers.
The new track is stark, lithe and very minimal in places. It definitely has a New York feel about it, too. Rogers is part of that, but there are also echoes of Talking Heads in there. This is perhaps understandable, as the album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, the recording studio built in Greenwich Village by Jimi Hendrix. Mvula feels comfortable in New York, saying that, "It feels like home because Sing to the Moon was mixed here. I feel like anybody could be anonymous here. Everyone's getting on with something exciting and it's inspiring."
Lyrically, the track recalls Maya Angelou and nods to Paul McCartney in its exhortation to "take your broken wings and fly." It is an anthem written in opposition to oppression, written at a time when we need as many of those as we can get. The video premiered at Fader, and she told them that the song is aiming to communicate what "joy feels like -- eventually. We're all going through something, but even the caged bird sings of freedom."
Published February 5th, 2016
Yoni Collier is a music producer, composer and writer who has been signed by (and then fallen out with) too many record labels to mention. He now freelances as this keeps arguments with colleagues to a minimum. He has written music for TV and award winning short films, and has worked as a producer with numerous artists. He also teaches music production at Leeds Beckett University.