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Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas photo by Hollie Fernando

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Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas
Nonesuch Records

Five years have passed since the last Lianne La Havas album. During that time, the London-based singer-guitarist-songwriter, who turns 31 this month, found herself in a relationship that burned bright, but then ended in painful heartbreak. This emotional period produced a creative burst, which has resulted in the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Blood. Since the new subject matter is so personal, she decided to title this third album simply Lianne La Havas.

In the years leading up to her debut, La Havas worked on developing her songwriting abilities, and issued several independent EPs. By the summer of 2012, Is Your Love Big Enough? was released, and it was immediately met with warm acclaim. Her main collaborator was Matt Hales, already established as the driving force behind the “band” Aqualung. A few years later, La Havas released Blood, and followed that up with an EP's worth of solo, acoustic versions of some of those tracks. Again, Hales was present, making significant contributions.

The five years following Blood turned out to be a time for La Havas to face life’s realities, as she went through periods of change and loss. That turned out to be beneficial, resulting in the maturation evident on her third album. She revealed (via Nonesuch Records) that it is her first completely self-produced album with her own band. "I got my own way with everything - all the decisions that you hear on this album were mine. I’m a woman now, so I’m less shy and timid about saying certain things. And there’s no right or wrong when it’s your record, so I was very much embracing that fact, as well.” As for the album’s subject matter, La Havas says, “I’ve tapped into the best and worst parts of me, and while I didn’t expect this to be the direction of my new music, it’s my reality and it’s driven by emotion. I dare say that this is the closest I’ve gotten to a pure expression so far... This is me. This is who I am.”

Lianne La Havas is a soulful concept album that compares a personal relationship to the life cycle of nature. Having experienced the complete cycle of a relationship firsthand, La Havas sought to document the “emotional roller coaster” of going from joy, to sorrow, to recovery; with the embedded logic of having to hit rock bottom before rebounding. Burgeoning love flourishes, then fades into a malaise of sorrow before recovering. This process is compared to a flower growing, blooming, thriving, dying and decaying before coming back.

Lianne La Havas packs an emotional punch, delivered on the strength of her remarkable voice, which gets a workout on the passionate album opener, “Bittersweet.” Thrilling sparks of attraction and flirtation punctuate “Read My Mind,” the jumping off point for La Havas’ concept. “Green Papaya” focuses on the physicality of a new, loving union, while the struggles inevitable in any relationship start appearing in “Can’t Fight.” At this point, these conflicts seem like they can be worked through; will love win out? But we begin to hear complexities, like self-doubt and a lack of confidence, seeping into the relationship in “Paper Thin.” After a minute-long interlude, “Out Of Your Mind,” and a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes,” the relationship’s end and the resulting emotions take focus. “Seven Times” addresses the reality that the bond has ended and recovery is underway, but it’s still necessary to call upon “Courage” for assistance; loneliness has crept in, and even though the emotional “Storm” has passed, the healing still needs some help. By “Sour Flower,” self-healing has taken over and the hurt is gone. It’s all going to be okay; in fact, the entire ordeal has turned out to be an empowering one.

In constructing the new album, La Havas was able to use older bits and pieces of music that had been left unfinished. Once again, Hales is on board as her primary collaborator.

La Havas’ vocal abilities shine on this self-titled album, and her guitar playing is subtle and nuanced, adding colors and varying the shades of the melodies. Although the subject matter can be emotionally draining at times, Lianne La Havas has an atmosphere that allows it to be soothing and comforting at the same time. The songs take the arc of a love affair and turn it into a warm, late night dose of neo-soul reflection.

They say you have to suffer for your art, and with her third album, La Havas has turned love, heartbreak, pain, sorrow, loneliness and recovery into a modern day soul tour de force.