Jessie Ware – Devotion | Album Review

There was never a risk of Jessie Ware falling victim to bridesmaid syndrome. Since her first high-profile turn on producer SBTRKT‘s skittering banger “Nervous” back in 2010, this Brixton-bred singer-songwriter has been a blog favourite whilst racking up radio spins and support from some of modern music’s most influential tastemakers.

Further appearances on SBTRKT’s critically-acclaimed debut album, and Joker ‘s most recent project cemented Ware’s status as a vocalist capable of bringing a graceful heft to bass-centric modern dance productions that might have overwhelmed lesser talents.

Despite being released on West London dance stable PMR (by way of major label Island Records), Devotion is a fundamentally soulful offering which is, for the most part, a major departure from the collaborations which preceded it. Positive comparisons to Sade have been forthcoming from the mainstream music press – there’s unquestionably something of the British soul legend in Ware’s vocal tone and nuanced delivery.

This is never more apparent than on current single “Wildest Moments,” an unashamed power-balled that is by far the album’s most mainstream-friendly offering. It’s big, bold and anthemic enough to have been featured on recent Olympics coverage and is an early standout moment.

Although “Wildest Moment” is the mainstream money shot, going for glory by playing it relatively safe, much of this 11-track album is genuinely accessible. Ware’s sound is light and airy, her vocal prowess making its impact with grace and finesse over polished production, primarily from The Invisible‘s Dave Okumu (responsible for the album’s darker moments) and the soon-to-be huge Julio Bashmore.

Debut single “Running” is Ware at her very best – she slinks through the first three minutes, before suddenly unleashing the full might of her voice for just a fleeting moment. We’re offered only tantalising glimpses of Ware’s considerable gifts on Devotion – whether because of her age (at 26, she has a few years on many of her starlet peers) or her inherent nature, she shows considerable restraint throughout; always knowing how much to give and never showboating or over-singing.

Clocking in at under three-quarters of an hour, Devotion sounds like a complete body of work; a collection of songs that belong together. There’s variety galore, and although the album has a clear sonic theme and direction, individual tracks are memorable in their own right.

The album’s best song (and perhaps Ware’s best vocal performance) comes midway through with “Night Light”, although the emotional ballad “Taking In Water” offers strong competition on both counts.

Ware’s songwriting is another strong suit: Devotion is grounded in club life and on the dancefloor, although not quite to the same extent as Katy B‘s outstanding debut album On A Mission. Where On A Mission was the diary of a fresh-faced 21-year-old, these tales come from an older, more experienced perspective.

In almost every way, Ware is the antithesis of the modern pop diva. Her much documented pre-fame job, as an aspiring journalist writing for the Jewish Chronicle, represents via minutiae the difference between the South Londoner and peers like Jessie J or Delilah.  A more mature artist, what she lacks in on-the-surface star quality (which, in this case, is perhaps a euphemism for abrasive ostentatiousness), Ware more than compensates for with her luscious, faultless vocals.

By her own admission, she has few designs on stardom – but Devotion is the calling card of a pop force in the making. Like a few of her aforementioned peers, she has the classic voice of a old-school soul queen, but in keeping with her air of understatement, she understands the value of restraint here. Fleeting between unashamedly big-business pop and forward-thinking R&B, stitched together with threads of modern British dance music; this is a cohesive, impressive body of work which rarely falters. Unmissable.

Jessie Ware – Devotion
Released: August 20, 2012
Label: Island
Buy: iTunes / Amazon

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