Jessie Ware’s supple, soulful voice begs comparisons to her fellow U.K. contemporaries Adele, Katy B, Florence Welch, and even Jessie J. But for a more apt comparison, one needs to look a bit further back, and across the pond, to American ’80s R&B, specifically Teena Marie and Prince. In fact, born a couple of decades earlier and Ware might have wound up as one of the latter’s muses instead of getting her start guesting on tracks by EDM and bass artists like SBTRKT and the Joker.
To wit, the piano part of “Wildest Moments,” the latest single from Ware’s debut, is straight out of the Paisley Park songbook. But despite the myriad references (Sade has been a popular comparison, and she recalls Aaliyah on the effervescent, Big Punisher-sampling “110%”), it’s clear Ware has found a voice of her own on Devotion. It would have been more fashionable (and commercially viable) for Ware to follow the formulas of her recent collaborations, but while she can occasionally come off like a more refined Katy B, she wisely eschews dupstep in favor of smooth, midtempo cuts like “Sweet Talk” and soul ballads like the stunning “Taking in Water.”
The clear standout is “Running,” a track furnished with stylish horn stabs, a big drum beat, and a sexy, recurring guitar riff. Ware’s subject matter of choice throughout the album is, naturally, love, and the song’s revelatory bridge is one of the few times she finds the occasion to truly belt: “I want to know is it mutual?/Am I ready to run?/Am I ready to fall?/I think I’m ready just to lose it all.” Ware drops rewind-worthy lines like “I’ve been looking at you too much” and “What if we’ve ruined it all?” on “Wildest Moments,” and though it at first seems like she’s chiding someone for their foolishness when she incredulously asks, “Who says no to love?,” on “No to Love,” she ultimately reveals herself to be the culprit (“What was I thinking of?”), speaking volumes about love and fear with just one repeated refrain.