Review : Jessie Ware - Devotion
PitchforkTo begin to understand where Jessie Ware is coming from, let's look at her stuck between an acoustic guitarist and an MPC beat pusher in the back of a London taxi. As part of the simple, self-explanatory "Black Cab Sessions" web series, the 27-year-old British singer recently took her place in the middle seat and proceeded to offer a nuanced live take on "Wildest Moments", a slyly epic ballad from her debut album, Devotion. In such tight quarters, she's not quite sure where to look-- at her bandmates, outside to the street, or directly into the camera-- her head on a controlled swivel. She's capable of blasting the back window out with her voice, which consistently strikes blue notes somewhere between Sade and Whitney, but she holds back, well-aware of her unplugged environment. The performance is seriously moving, and yet Ware lets loose a few brief grins and a slight laugh, as if to say, "All this is quite ridiculous, don't you think?" And that's Jessie Ware: a devout realist making the most of her pop-star dreams-- and her commitment to both sides of that equation turns Devotion into a uniquely soulful masterclass.
If you've half-slept through just one episode of a reality-television singing competition over the last decade, you're probably somewhat privy to Ware's trajectory. The one-time theater kid started out as a backup singer before nearly giving up her musical aspirations to be a journalist. But then, thanks to a montage-ready twist of fate, she ended up singing lead on melodic bass producer SBTRKT's 2010 single "Nervous", which led to a solo label deal, which led to Ware being forced to take the spotlight. But oftentimes backup singers are off to the side for a reason, and the hard truth is that's where they will be most productive; there are only so many lead roles in the world of pop. Considering her self-described "boringly sensible" outlook and the doubt pinging around her brain ("I had to get past the idea of, like, 'Who gives a shit about what I'm gonna fucking write a song about?'"), Ware sounds more like a supporting player on paper. But then you hear her voice, and any and all limits start to fade into the distance....full text
GuardianSophisticated, smooth and sensual, in the wrong hands Devotion could easily have been a footnote in the New Boring movement, that vibrant strain of youth culture that has already given us Emeli Sandé, Adele and Bruce Springsteen concerts that wrestle with the spacetime continuum itself. Yet Jessie Ware's debut album is saved by one fact: for all her album's poise and restraint, dance music clearly runs through this 27-year-old south Londoner's veins.
A former guest vocalist for the dubstep-tinged likes of SBTRKT and Joker, Ware's teenage years were spent putting the graft in, researching her trade at drum'n'bass nights at Brixton's Mass. Yet until now she has always seemed more comfortable singing from the shadows rather than taking centre stage. "Being a backing singer was my idea of heaven," she once said, which doesn't exactly suggest a cut-throat desire to elbow aside the competition. In fact, Ware barely set out to be a singer at all, originally settling on a career as a journalist before finding herself in the somewhat improbable situation of being jealous of Jack Peñate – a former schoolmate (as was Florence Welch and stray members of the Maccabees) – who had the gumption to go out looking for a record deal.
Such reticence might be regarded as a stumbling block for a singer pushing out into solo-album territory. Yet one of the most enthralling things about Devotion is how Ware uses that restraint to her advantage. From the opening trickle of wind chimes to the delicate vocal refrain on closing track Something Inside, Devotion is by turns hushed, downbeat and unobtrusive. Yet unlike, say, Zomby or Kindness, eerie conceptualists mutating dance music into something unsettling, Devotion isn't in the business of playing fancy tricks with us. Rather, it's honest, heartfelt and warm. In many ways the record Devotion resembles most is Katy B's On a Mission. Not sonically – On a Mission was far more gregarious – but how it uses the colour palette of club culture as a starting point to paint broader pop pictures. It could be to that record what the 3am comedown is to the night before, or the Burial to Katy B's Benga, if you were after a particularly tortuous dubstep metaphor....full text
BbcWhilst she passed by several tipsters at the turn of the year, missing the BBC’s Sound of 2012 and the Brit Awards’ Critics Choice category, Clapham-raised Jessie Ware has been steadily growing into south London’s own Sade-in-waiting ever since her 2010 emergence.
That breakthrough was as a guest on SBTRKT’s track Nervous, and Ware would collaborate with the masked producer again on his eponymous album of 2011, as well as with Joker on The Vision.
Her gorgeous duet with Sampha, Valentine, was a standout single of 2011, and Ware’s own solo material prior to this set’s release, including non-album cut Strangest Feeling, laid impressive foundations.
Which have been built upon brilliantly: Devotion is the sort of sophisticated, soulful pop record that comes along all too rarely, a collection that never hides the heart on its sleeve. Down-tempo it may be, but no listener will come away downcast. Overlook the relatively low chart positions for Running and 110%, as they’re hardly indicative of the quality on display.
Devotion begins with delicately plucked guitar lines and trebly percussion, the title track navigating a narrative thread of a love affair coming apart at its seams. The touch of The Invisible’s Dave Okumu can be felt repeatedly – as the main producer, he lends some of his group’s brand of exquisite vulnerability to tracks like the sweat-and-tears-swollen Taking In Water, the restrained funk purr of Sweet Talk, and the Olympic-montage-soundtracking single Wildest Moments....full text
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