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Laura Mvula weaves musical magic at Parish show

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 23, 2014

Backed by a five-piece ensemble that included violin, cello and harp alongside upright bass, drums and keys, it was clear from the beginning of her Tuesday night Parish set that British artist Laura Mvula is no ordinary pop or soul singer. The conservatory trained musician led her ensemble through an enchanting set of meticulously constructed orchestral pop compositions that lasted just over an hour and covered most of the material from her impressive debut album “Sing to the Moon.”

With a striking vocal quality — rich, bright and clear and formidable skills on the keyboard, Mvula was a commanding presence, and despite reports of her paralyzing stage fright she was a thoroughly charming host. She introduced the gorgeously textured single “She,” a song she referred to as the first one she wrote, with a dedication to the audience “because I kind of feel like it’s a good vibe in here.”

She admitted an aversion to “the talking thing” saying she prefers to just sing and play and for much of the night she segued smoothly from song to song. Perhaps it was the intricately detailed entrancing compositions or the unorthodox instrumentation, but the audience seemed to treat the show as a classical event. Though Mvula remarked at one point that she “heard chatter during some of the quiet bits,” the audience was uncharacteristically respectful for an Austin crowd. Diverse in terms of age, gender and race, these were true fans, held in rapt attention through the duration of the show.

The ensemble pieces were lovely, and Mvula’s band members which include her brother on cello and her sister on violin are all incredibly sensitive musicians. Nonetheless some of the most powerful moments of the evening were the quietest. Seated at the keyboard, Mvula performed a breathtaking, haunting rendition of the song “Father, Father” with just voice and piano.

Finally after weaving musical magic for the better part of an hour, Mvula confided that this was her last show as a 27-year-old, and after contemplating what it means to grow old she took the show out on an upbeat note. Urging the audience to “have fun with these songs” she moved through the livelier section of her catalog with a spirited rendition of “Green Garden” and an unabashedly funky extended dance party version of “That’s Alright.”

The band left the stage briefly and the audience enthusiastically called for an encore. They returned to play one final number then Mvula graciously introduced the band. Though Mvula herself might be worried about getting old, to the rest of the crowd it seemed absolutely clear that this young musician has a very bright future still ahead.