Music Review: Jessie Ware, “Devotion” (Universal Island)
Jessie Ware does not have a default setting for her uncommonly expressive, soulful voice, but the British singer’s full-length debut, “Devotion,” occupies a rarified sonic space. “Devotion” embodies the same sense of lush, seductive atmosphere that made Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and Bryan Ferry’s follow-up album, “Boys & Girls,” such essential alt-rock romance staples, and it does so in service to a singer who possesses an actor’s sense of what her material needs.
That range and intuitive sense of what is required and desired gets illustrated quickly, with Ware crooning about “mutual devotion on the pensive title song, then opening up with full anthem pipes on “Wildest Moments.” Ware avoids overselling or “oversoul-ing,” staying away from the histrionics that might attract lesser talents, which makes her displays of power and her sense of when to keep it in reserve so impressive. On “Running,” she begins at a quiet storm level as the echoing drums and elegant guitars vibrate behind her, but then she hits turbo. As she sings “And I’m lost again” at the midpoint of “Running,” Ware is in soul-diva territory, then dials it back on the Ferry-esque mantra of sadness and seduction, “No To Love.”
Ware writes songs worthy of her expensive sounding production by Julio Bashmore, Kid Harpoon and Dave Okumu, expressing sentiments of cautious romantic hope in “Night Light” that radiate soul — on this track, her vocal clarity and strength evoke one of Ware’s idols, Chaka Khan. She maintains a serious mood throughout “Devotion” but punctuates like a veteran R&B singer. Ware is an unlikely star, having spent most of her twenties singing background and popping up on tracks by SBTRKT, but “Devotion” sounds as if she waited until her material and performing chops were fully mature. Plenty of reviewers compare Ware to British pop-soul singers of the recent past such as Lisa Stansfield or Tracey Thorn, but if “Devotion” is only the beginning, her impact could be closer to that of Dusty Springfield.
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