After contributing melodies alongside fellow British vocalist Sampha on SBTRKT’s heralded debut album last year, Jessie Ware has unleashed her first album, Devotion. Devotion places an emphasis on R&B that has been seemingly untouched in recent past, filling the void between radio singers like Drake and electronic-heavy outfits like AlunaGeorge, earning Jessie comparisons to smoother singers like Sade.
What sets Jessie apart is how she settles into a slow-burning delivery where many of her peers are quick to belt lyrics until their beat reaches the drop. Not to say she hasn’t been there herself, singing on a track produced by Joker and working with SBTRKT in general, but she’s not showing that in her solo work. Hearing Jessie make music on her own yields a special strand of soulful R&B. Just in the opening track, “Devotion,” she introduces herself to her listeners with a breathy refrain, which begins to build the relationship between her and her beats. Jessie seems to approach her music with a sort of jazz sensibility where she rails off vocal runs after sinking into a groove midway through each track.
But that’s not to say she lacks pop friendliness. “Night Light” has the familiar song structure of Top 40 hits without the soullessly boring monotony, and actually gives way to her most upfront song on the record. The beat on “Running” sounds like the result of The Roots covering Com Truise, allowing Jessie to sing airily, as if she is her own sample. “110%” also combines elements of electronic music without fully committing, her voice sounding barely above a whisper until she starts belting about halfway through the track.
Tracks like “Taking In Water” and “Something Inside” will appease traditional pop fans without delving too far into the realm of experimental R&B. The moments where Jessie actually does throw herself into the music are enticing, possibly because she toys with listeners by not immediately delivering on each track. Some listeners will have to actually spend time with the entire album to feel that sense of reward. “No To Love” might feel immensely repetitive to some listeners, though she appears to be repeating the line in order to show how diverse her voice can become.
Overall, Devotion manages to launch Jessie Ware past being simply a sample-artist and into an unexpectedly solid and mature place. She clearly establishes herself as a formidable new voice in beat-conscious R&B, clinging to a variety of influences that all seem to appear at once. Though some listeners may feel this record is over-celebrated, the consistent, soulful quality of it is what makes her music memorably beautiful.