London-based guitar and vocalist/goddess Lianne La Havas showed up as an ointment this past, terrible summer. Listening to new music felt like a low priority in comparison to securing a durable supply of cleaning wipes. But she administered retro ‘70s folk-soul pop that cuts through all the glitz blabber and schmaltzy pretense, and hit you with truth. Painful at times—like life—La Havas’ work brought faith, decency, and compassion to her arrangements.
She became part of my auditory elevation. One look at that toothy, endearing smile underneath all that beautiful thick, curly, natural black hair on her self-titled album cover from this summer, you automatically get the alert; this is a safe space.
Case in point; I sent a random playlist mix to a friend who was cleaning her apartment in preparation to move during COVID this summer, and La Havas’ cover of Radiohead’s ”Weird Fishes” knocked ol’ girl on her ass while cleaning a moldy refrigerator. Now, that’s power.
According to lore, teenaged Lianne La Havas would listen to Thom Yorke and the boys on her MP3 player while shuttling around London. Fast-forward a decade later, she expedited her cover of “Weird Fishes” from Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows in one day at the first recording session with her own band. Here was the dose of humanity we could all relate to.
So just in time for a 2021 refresh on everything, Lianne La Havas has a new EP. Live at the Roundhouse features five tracks she performed during a livestream concert at London’s Roundhouse venue in July. It delivers the stripped-down guitar and songwriter deluxe oeuvre at which she’s a master, and makes for a gallant reminder for what is at stake in the world right now. The power of live performance has never been so healing.
La Havas opens with the easy-breezy “Seven Times,” the sweeping account of a break-up in the works. It’s an engaging fusion of folk-pop introspection and acoustic soul vibrancy. I want to be in the audience witnessing that vulnerability—not to mention, seeing her send dude off, vocally. “You didn’t pay your rent/so I guess you’ll be leaving” kicks off the song with an understated rhythmic guitar accompaniment. It’s the usual guitar technical sorcery she works with—YES, the Joni Mitchell comparisons are appropriate.
Couple that with the scratchy-calm voice that can go from fireplace-comfy sweater mode to full “bearing my haunted soul” canon blaring at 11. These acoustic, twanged up, R&B arrangements, the ones you almost feel guilty about hearing because they come from her actual life, hardships. They get woven into these narratives, take up space in your frontal lobe. Yeah mang, that’s what I miss. I thank Lianne for the timely reminder.