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Whilst 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.
Wildest Moments offers listeners the opportunity to witness the frills-free appeal of this singer via two senses, as its video focuses exclusively on Ware throughout. It’s an effective visual metaphor for the album as a whole: the singer with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. She turns with the world and can’t step off, so release comes in the form of these songs.
Ware never stretches for an out-of-reach note; she never gives her songs over to hyperbole or bombast. Throughout, there is a well-measured, well-mannered elegance that engages with more efficiency than many an artist dressing their material up as The Next Big Thing. There's nothing "next" about Ware: she’s here, now, and superb.