A young artist with an old soul and a sage voice, Lianne La Havas was destined to be heard. When the British singer-songwriter released her debut, “Is Your Love Big Enough?” in 2012, she sounded fresh but also familiar. Her songs flickered with the quiet grace of acoustic-soul innovators (Bill Withers) and regal pop singers (Sade).
La Havas never raised her voice on that first album because she didn’t have to; her singing and guitar playing expressed volumes. She was 22 back then and attracted admirers ranging from Prince, who featured La Havas on last year’s “Art Official Age,” to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
Where La Havas’s debut was an introduction and a glimmer of promise, its follow-up, “Blood,” is a statement of purpose and self-discovery. Its central conceit is an exploration of roots and familial ties. Much of the album was written on a trip to Jamaica, her mother’s homeland, which had always been part of La Havas’s upbringing but never quite a direct influence.
The island’s rhythmic pleasures permeate “Blood,” her most sonically diverse effort yet, pulsating with electronic flourishes that create a fascinating tension against the serene elegance of her voice. Nearly every song starts in a state of euphoria open to possibility.
With its rich backup vocals, “What You Don’t Do” puts a modern spin on Stax soul. Horns add a playful punch to “Midnight,” while primal drums imbue “Grow” with grit. Her ballads, as usual, are sweet marvels of understatement. “But wasn’t it kinda wonderful? / Wasn’t it kinda wonderful, baby?” she muses on the beguiling “Wonderful.”
Looking beyond romantic entanglements, La Havas illuminates her own heritage growing up with a Jamaican mother and a Greek father on “Green & Gold”:
I’m looking at life unfold
Dreaming of the green and gold
Just like the ancient stone
Every sunrise I know
Those eyes you gave to me
They let me see where I come from
A collaboration with Jamie Lidell and Matt Hales, the song acknowledges how her past has brought her to this moment and, by extension, to a beautiful album that builds on the buzz of her first one. (Out Friday)
ESSENTIAL “Green & Gold”