"Sing to the Moon"
The young English singer Laura Mvula makes a stunning entrance on her debut album, weightlessly soaring over the massed harmonies of a gospel choir as slow-motion bass and brass rev to life beneath the intricate vocal interplay. The opening tune is called "Like the Morning Dew," which feels appropriate: A composition graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire, Mvula is providing renewal in a U.K. pop scene overloaded with old-fashioned soul strivers chasing Adele's runaway success.
The songs on "Sing to the Moon" chart boldly idiosyncratic paths; they repeat and elaborate, building instrumental steam only to stop cold when you least expect it. Yet the thrills aren't simply academic. "I don't need love to rescue me," Mvula declares atop a swinging orchestral-jazz groove in "Make Me Lovely," and it's like a slyly modern response to "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story."
"Go Back Home"
Where Mvula's album brushes against the lush grandeur of Broadway, Audra McDonald embraces — or reembraces — the form fully on her first solo disc since the pop-leaning "Build a Bridge" in 2006.
But if the musical-theater star is back to performing Sondheim ("The Glamorous Life") and Styne-Comden-Green ("Make Someone Happy"), she keeps her arrangements relatively stripped-down here, drawing out the folky simplicity of "Edelweiss" and the Kander & Ebb title track, from "The Scottsboro Boys."
Of course, the tidy chamber-orchestra settings only create more room for McDonald's magnificent singing, which offers all the thrills a listener needs. As usual, she stuns upon entrance, exit and everything else.
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