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Two well-received EPs, a BBC Sound of 2012 nomination and a high-profile support slot on Bon Iver's North American tour, all before her debut album has come out. Now it’s arrived in the shape of Is Your Love Big Enough?, a strong and skilfully delivered set that consolidates the strengths of her spindly guitar and rich vocals, but also exposes weaknesses along the way.
It’s always been clear that La Havas has a special voice, and so it proves here. Her vocals are soulful, edged with lounge-bar smoke, but each note is sung with force and precision. On pensive Willy Mason duet No Room for Doubt, her resigned words barely escape her lips. Elsewhere, her layered vocals on They Could Be Wrong shimmer like Jill Scott’s, or Erykah Badu’s in her softer moments.
It’s a voice that invites you in, and only the hardest heart will resist the offer. La Havas’ guitar work, meanwhile, is often superb. Her fingers pluck clean lines that shift from playfully atonal on the title track, through the très chic Parisian vibes of Au Cinema, to the palm-muted tension of angry break-up anthem Forget.
While the album demonstrates La Havas’ skill in crafting hand-weaved interplay between voice and guitar, it also shows that she’s less of a natural fit for big, emotional ballads. Piano-led confessionals like Lost and Found or Gone aren’t bad songs, but they lead her into the arena of pop titans. They’re not powerful enough to beat someone like Adele at her own game, and it feels like she sacrifices a lot of her distinctive intimacy in reaching for these giant moments.
Despite these weaker moments of Is Your Love Big Enough?, it’s La Havas’ gorgeous voice and gifted string fingers that’ll make the biggest impressions. This might not be a home run straight out of the gate, but it’s an extremely promising first swing of the bat.
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