By Erin Caine
Elm Staff Writer
Three years ago, the London-born singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas released her debut, “Is Your Love Big Enough,” which introduced her unique blend of soul, folk, pop, and R&B with an underlying jazz influence. Memorable tracks such as “Don’t Wake Me Up” and “Lost and Found” propelled the album to the fourth position on the U.K. charts, and nominations for several awards. Any possible follow-up to an effort of such impressive artistic caliber seemed destined to the land of lackluster second albums, but La Havas managed to deliver an album this year that not only matched the excellence of her debut but did so while diverging entirely from her established style.
“Blood” is just as its name suggests, an effort with vitality. Where La Havas’ debut was largely acoustically-driven with sparse melodies and light vocals, “Blood” immediately launches the listener into a pop-infused world of jazzy bass guitar and La
Havas’ velveteen and distinctive voice. As the second song unfolds, one immediately notices that while La Havas has indeed amplified the jazz and pop elements of her music to make the overall sound fuller and louder, she still isn’t afraid to make this album a deeply personal. Her mellow track “Green and Gold” makes references to her own heritage as the daughter of a Jamaican mother and a Greek father. Suddenly, one finds that the title of her sophomore album takes on a whole new realm of meaning. Another stand-out track is “Midnight,” which employs the use of brass instruments and generous keyboard riffs. It plainly exhibits her influences in jazz and from soul artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Erykah Badu.
Of course, with such bold songs at the forefront of the long play, it’s easy to overlook those that follow the same acoustic vein as those of her debut. “Ghost” presents the La Havas we’ve been acquainted with before, that is, an artist with a lighthearted vocal style that masks the underlying, brooding lyrics. “On and on we go,” she sings, against the muted plucking of guitar strings, “always with the ghosts of us in tow.” Lyrics such as these distinguish her from other contemporary artists. Many musical artists these days, with the sole interest of accessibility in mind, forgo meaningful lyrical content for catchy vocal hooks. Perhaps the most striking facet of “Blood” is its unabashed creative integrity in a world saturated in syrupy, one-hit wonders and songs manufactured for the purpose of taking advantage of the casual listener.
The album, as a whole, never lulls into a fixed pattern but continually serves up fresh melodies and stylistic nuances until the closing notes of “Good Goodbye.” Lianne La Havas’ 2015 follow-up is rich and evocative, bold, and distinctive and marks the singer-songwriter as an artist to keep an eye on for future efforts.