Laura Mvula, "The Dreaming Room" (Columbia US)
Laura Mvula creates her trademark festival of vocals on "The Dreaming Room," an ambitious album full of rhythms and drama, with some songs suitable for recital halls and others for the dance floor.
The classically trained Mvula and drummer/producer Troy Miller get help from guitarists Nile Rodgers and John Scofield and the London Symphony Orchestra, among others, but the tunes rely most on her layers of rhythmic harmony and lyrics dwelling on life's complexities. Mvula's distinct musical world offers plenty of treasures.
On her first effort, "Sing to the Moon," Mvula sang about playing "my own damn tune" and her second album (third, if you count a 2014 reinterpretation of her debut with orchestral backing) expands that idea with "I can only be who I am."
"Overcome," written with Rodgers, and "Phenomenal Woman," inspired by a Maya Angelou poem, are the dance-pop bookends with sophisticated twists. Between them are the hymn-like "Show Me Love" (I miss belonging to someone), the Christmas carol-ly "Angel" (Is this where we part forever) and "Bread" (Lay the breadcrumbs down so we can find our way), which also evokes the "one-woman choir" skills of the late Kirsty MacColl.
By turns expressing both strength and vulnerability, life seems simple only when Mvula has a brief, sweet phone chat with her grandmother on "Nan." But even she requests songs to "lift me spirits ... jig me foot." Now that's pressure!
While some bands aspire to "more cowbell," several songs on "The Dreaming Room" are enhanced with "additional harp." It's that kind of album and that's just fine.