Emeli Sande - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2013)

Emeli Sande
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British female soul singers have proven popular with U.S record buyers since the panda-eyed Dusty Springfield earned her R&B credentials back in the 1960s, wooing American audiences with her barbequed soul classic “Son of a Preacher Man.” Since those halcyon days, the likes of Maxine Nightingale, Lisa Stansfield and Mica Paris have all found success on the American charts. Fast forward to the 2000s and a new crop of musically-gifted female singers from across the pond such as Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Adele have achieved even greater success than their decades past counterparts, leading some critics to dub their presence on the American music scene as a the “British Soul Invasion.” Singer and songwriter Emile Sande is the latest singer who hopes to achieve the same level of success in the States as she has done in her homeland.

Born in the North of England and raised in Scotland, Sande has achieved great success in a short space of time. Having made her recording debut in 2009 with British Rapper Chipmunk on his UK top ten hit, “Diamond Rings,” Sande released her debut album, Our Version of Events, in 2012. Quickly entering the British album charts at number one it became the bestselling album of that year and was the only album in Britain to sell a million copies. Sande then performed for a global audience at the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympic Games, enhancing her already glowing reputation. One album in, Sande looks set for a bright future.

Recorded at tail end of 2012, Live at The Royal Albert Hall features hits such as “Heaven” and “Next to Me” in addition to two new songs, “Enough” and “Pluto” (both slated for a forthcoming studio album). Backed by bevy of backing singers, a five piece band and a heavenly orchestra of strings that majestically sweep throughout, Live at The Royal Albert Hall reveals Sande to be a powerful and committed singer but one who has yet to master the large scale rhetoric of performing to a large audience. Unassuming and reserved, Sande is more than self-assured in her voice and artistic vision however, drawing on both the melodically uplifting and introspectively melancholy. Framed by a yearning and at times gut-wrenchingly powerful soprano voice that draws you in from the very first breath, Live at The Royal Albert Hall deserves much praise.

The disc opens with the ominous “Daddy,” which conjures imagery of an empty vessel drifting through the night, and Sande’s backing singers croon what sounds like a death march with gothic undertones as she sets up the melodrama of someone falling back in love with a bad love. Her band imitates the chiming sounds of church bells that serve as a foreboding and cautionary tale drawing the listener in, whilst the subtle gospel keys intro of “Where I Sleep,” with its carousel and nursery rhyme cadence, underpin her undeniable popularity.

In addition to her own material, Sande performs a noteworthy and faithful cover of musical idol Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free,” subtly taking the audience to church. But Sande is no Nina Simone. Seemingly sweet-natured, Sande is more girl-next-door than girl on stage and is prone to the occasional onstage gushes as if she can’t quite believe she’s performing as a headline act. “Wow!” she exclaims, “I’m playing The Royal Albert Hall, it’s incredible.”  Despite her almost non-existent stage patter, Sande still occasionally musters up the nerve to engage her audience, albeit briefly, on a chorus or three of “My Kind of Love.” Cinematically dramatic and sweeping, with shades of the neo-classical, Sande digs deep to pull off a spectacular and mesmeric bravado performance.

Sande’s music is filled with optimistic lyricism that at times can be sombre and mournful, while her seemingly tear-stained voice evokes much emotion, as perfectly displayed on the concert’s standout performance “Clown.” Solemn, poignant and exquisitely beautiful, Sande’s tear-choked voice soars into and consumes a clearly mesmerised audience

Live at the Royal Albert Hallis quite possibly one of the best albums of 2013, and should carry a warning sticker: “Artist at work.” On it, Emile Sande proves herself to an artist who has shown herself worthy of her quick ascent and one who deserves many more encores to come. Highly Recommended

By Garry Moran