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Remember Alicia Keys before she became a big enough name to revive the BlackBerry brand and hold her own in a Jay-Z collaboration? Back in 2001, when she released her critically lauded Grammy-winning debut, “Songs in A Minor,” she was a no-frills soulstress with impressive piano deftness. She was the next coming of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. She was like nothing at the time.
She was a lot like Lianne La Havas, the London import who headlines April 2 at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, just one of 18 shows on her current tour. I haven’t known of Lianne for long: I caught the singer on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” just last week and immediately shot an email to the show promoter, gushing. Her funky Alicia-circa-2001 soul style as she performed her debut’s intoxicating title track, “Is Your Love Big Enough?,” left me so rapt I was upset to find out of its release … in 2012! Why hadn’t I been listening to this already? The 23-year-old’s sophisticated R&B sound should’ve been consuming me months before I finally had her album on my iTunes. Seven whole months gone (the LP was released in August). We made up for lost time this past week, when I let “Is Your Love Big Enough?” consume every bit of me and rule over everything else in my Recently Played list (sorry, Justin Timberlake).
The album is made for NPR endorsements (which it received) and Best New Artist accolades (Grammys, are you listening?), because Lianne is the kind of modern musician able to find her place in 2013 while also sonically acknowledging the names who got her there. These people: Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Sade, all of whom consciously, or innately, influenced the jazzy folk-soul sound of “Is Your Love Big Enough?” You half expect “Don’t Wake Me Up,” which breaks in the album with just a mesmerizing a cappella opening, to tear through the seams with a hip-hop baseline, but no. She resists. The song evokes a smokey groove as guitar and piano gently massage the music into a sexy little piece of heaven. Not that she takes herself too seriously for anything other than adult-contemporary fare. “Forget” would fit the bill for Beyonce’s “4” album; it’s just experimental enough to still get radio onboard. “Age” is playful music-wise and also lyrically: “I kind of know this other guy, but he’s rather old enough to be my father.”
Throughout, Lianne’s voice is comfortably supple and mellow, a chanteuse sure of her instrument but also completely aware of just how far she can go with it – something Alicia Keys lost track of (diva runs? really?). I’m already eager to see where she goes from here, because you know I’ll be making sure her next album makes it into my collection. This time, on the day of release.