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Laura Mvula 'The Dreaming Room' review

Henry Lewis pens his opinion on a purposeful second album from the Birmingham singer.

Ben Smith

Date published: 17th Jun 2016

Image: Laura Mvula

In the days that preceded the release of her second album, Laura Mvula spoke out and added to the words of countless other female musicians. She repeated the simple message that the music industry is still sexist and is still yet to properly credit so many women with exceptional talent.

Misogynistic moguls were not the only bigwigs denounced by Mvula, she also spoke about how racism is still rife and that we are living in the "Donald Trump time of music". 

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What a time then to release an album that shows no sign of being shackled by rigid demographics or the shallow demands of the top 40; instead The Dreaming Room is a collection of artistic and political messages that promote independence and freedom.

Never before has liberty been portrayed with such ethereal qualities, Mvula's voice fluctuates throughout, sometimes delicate sometimes powerful, but always meaningful.

What makes this record so enjoyable is the way the 30 year old uses this precious instrument, her vocals create tension between the verses of 'Lucky Man' without even enunciating any distinguished words. This is offset by the sparse use of instrumentation, something that is noticeable in most of the songs on this album.

'Kiss My Feet' is a perfect example of this. Percussion is sporadic throughout but when it does appear it marries beautifully with the fragility of the piano and the choral backing vocals. This builds until the song takes flight with Mvulas repeated vocals: "Nothing is impossible/Love is the only answer/And we find peace of mind helping".

The albums two collaborations are equally as considered and help accentuate two of its finest qualities: its musical subtlety and its lyrical power. 

Whilst best known for his centre stage funky fret work, Nile Rodgers' contribution to 'Overcome' is much less prominent. Although it is business as usual from the Chic man, it's by no means 'Le Freak'. Instead of creating the song around his immense talent, Rodgers' shimmering guitar drifts in and out exactly where you want it to without stealing the limelight from Mvula's vocals.

On the contrary, the shining jewel in 'People' is a frank verse from grime MC Wretch 32 who depicts racial strife with a frightening tenacity, especially through the bars: "Life's a bitch, oh, life's a bitch/Depending on what breed you is/Depending on what shoe you fit/Depending on what team you're in."

The phone call track 'Nan' is touching and not tragic which is a true testament to Mvula's authenticity. It is the perfect precursor to closing track 'Phenomenal Woman' which more than grants her grandmothers wish of: "Write a song I can shake me foot".

It is by far the most immediate song on the album and has more than a whiff of Funkadelic about it. It's a bold statement to close with both in its title and its tempo and is a joyous listen as well as a powerful message to women worldwide. 

When the music industry eventually steps out of the dark ages, it will look to records like this as the blueprint in being artistic, independent and in no doubt about your talents. The Dreaming Room is proof that you don't have to conform to formulas or adhere to ideals, when music sounds as good as this it doesn't matter who's making it and it never should. 

Laura Mvula plays Latitude festival at Henham Park on Sunday 17th July.

Like this? Check out Gregory Porter 'Take Me To The Alley' review