Is Your Love Big Enough?
Although the production is occasionally too overwrought for my taste, Lianne La Havas’ debut album “Is Your Love Big Enough?” is a genre-bending collection of 12 tunes with excellent finger work from the 22-year-old Londoner. The set was recorded last year and released in the U.K. earlier this year, so there was plenty of buzz, including a New York Times blurb, and so expecting some sublime guitar work, I found the opening electronically-enhanced a capella verses jarring and gimmicky.
There are just a few, but a few too many, passages like that, and the best parts of the record are when her rich voice and the low-tech guitar are brought to the fore. “I found myself in a second-hand guitar,” she sings so appropriately in the title track, because the guitar backs her up with a thin and dirty sound that sounds like its coming from a tube amp, but too often buried in super-saturated layers of over-dubbed vocals and other electronic touches. La Havas has some interesting tricks and tasty licks on the guitar, though you sometimes have to listen through the gloss to hear the nuance of her playing. Nevertheless, the album is treasure chest of sound and style, with sweet torch ballads in “Lost and Found and “Everything Everything”, a bit of folky swing with R&B flourishes (did I mentiion genre-bending?) in “Au Cinema” and “Age”, a smooth jazz duet with Willy Mason in “No Room for Doubt” and Bollywood-style (really) in “Forget”.
The 11-track set is packed full, to be sure, and stays good to the last drop. My favorite track, in fact, which not coincidentally give her guitar work a more prominent spot in the mix, comes near the end in which she and that second-hand guitar sing a near-solo, near-perfect duet. Her voice has remarkable range in both pitch and emotion, with so many diverse colors that makes it uniquely beautiful, a crazy mix that sometimes echos Joni Mitchell, sometimes Aretha Franklin. She can croon, let it fly and or whisper it.
The album delivers the promise of being full of love songs and are alternately exuberant, sultry and contemplative. Having heard the record, however, just makes me curious to hear her live, solo or in a small combo, where there would surely be more meat and a little less cheese.
~ Richard O..Jones