Lianne La Havas, "Blood" (Nonesuch)
Lianne La Havas is a 25-year-old London singer-songwriter with a big fan in Prince, who featured her on his album "Art Official Age" and last year performed a secret gig for a dozen people in her living room.
It's easy to hear what caught his ear. La Havas' voice, which has drawn comparisons to Sade and Alicia Keys, is relaxed but powerful, moving easily from languid sensuality to delicate yearning.
"Blood," her second album, blends La Havas' guitar-based folk influences with dollops of R&B and mellow, jazzy soul. There are strong hooks, big bubbling basslines, delicate keyboards and subdued horns on a record that opens with "Unstoppable," a percolating anthem co-written by Adele collaborator Paul Epworth.
As Epworth's participation suggests, this is a set of smoothly accomplished songs that includes the disco-tinged "What You Don't Do," funky ode to loneliness "Tokyo" and spare, subtle ballad "Wonderful." The musical texture is rich and polished — so much so that the burst of rock distortion on "Never Get Enough" comes as a pleasant shock.
Lyrically, the songs are personal — "Green & Gold" reflects on the singer's mixed Greek and Jamaican heritage — but restrained, touching on loneliness, heartbreak, aspiration and angst in a way that is thoughtful but unflaggingly polite. ("I've been unsatisfied lately when I think about us," La Havas offers on "Never Get Enough").
La Havas' is a sensational singer whose sensitive songwriting lacks the wit and wildness of a troubled original like the late Amy Winehouse. That's probably good news for La Havas, but leaves some of her songs feeling tepid. "Blood" never boils.