Irish singer/songwriter Laura Izibor didn't know she could sing until she was 13, but once she did, she knew she was on to something.
"I was in drama class at school and the teacher asked everyone to get up to sing. I was pleading, 'Please don't ask me,'" Izibor says. "But I got up and sang. My heart was in my throat, and the class and the teacher said I had something. So I had to pursue it."
Seven years later, 21-year-old Izibor's dazzling vocal range and syrupy soul music have pegged her as an artist to watch. Her first single, "From My Heart to Yours," broke onto the Hot Adult R&B Airplay chart at No. 29. Izibor will also be sharing the stage with R&B star Estelle in the U.K. and Ireland later this month.
With its slick piano hook, playful lyrics and throwback feel, "From My Heart to Yours" serves as the perfect precursor to "Let the Truth Be Told," Izibor's debut full-length on Atlantic Records, slated for an early 2009 release.
"I'm just doing this for me, with real, honest music written from my heart," Izibor says. "I think you hear it in the production. I wanted the songs to breathe and to be natural and organic."
As a teenager in Dublin, Izibor began honing her craft with voice lessons, piano lessons and performances at summer art school. At 15, she won Ireland's 2FM Song Contest, a radio competition that landed her in national newspapers and generated label interest. Izibor signed to Jive Records on her 17th birthday and began recording parts of "Truth" in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dublin. After amicably splitting with Jive two years ago, Izibor signed to Atlantic and finished the album, all while performing sold-out shows in Ireland and opening for R&B stars like Al Green and Angie Stone.
"Let the Truth Be Told," which Izibor wrote and co-produced, is a striking blend of old-school R&B traditions and modern production. She credits an early gravitation toward classic soul artists like Otis Redding and Roberta Flack for the album's timeless feel.
"I just think when you're a kid, a black kid living on Ireland, the music you love and the artists you love don't come from one place," says Izibor.
Although her influences are evident on the disc, Izibor's snappy songwriting has helped her carve into other niches in the genre. "Shine" -- which appeared in the 2007 film "The Nanny Diaries" -- glows with an upbeat vibrancy, as Izibor sings about waking up from a mundane life and never passing up opportunities. Meanwhile, "Mmm" is a gospel-tinged ballad she described as a testament "to pure, unselfish love."
As her songwriting continues to draw comparisons to contemporaries like Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill, Izibor still feels connected to the rich past of soul musi, and is proud that "Let the Truth Be Told" wears its inspirations on its sleeve. "Every one of my heroes is on there," she says.
While "From My Heart to Yours" continues to receive radio airplay leading up to the album's release, Izibor will be performing at select shows in the States, including a show at New York's Cutting Room on Dec. 3. She's also prepping the release of the album's second single, "Don't Stay," a tender piano-led tune about a failed relationship.
Izibor's powerful voice will likely impress American audiences, but she hopes that the songs themselves, which capture different aspects of the singer's personality, resonate just as clearly. "Because the album's been written over pretty much the last chunk of my life, there's very personal and real stuff in there," she says. "There's this soulful thread that goes through the whole thing. It's just honest music, and no B.S."