Ultimately, no matter what the genre, making music is about finding one's voice. "It took me ages, really, to work out what kind of voice I wanted to be my voice," says new soft-soul sensation Jessie Ware. Fashioning a personal sound is a mysterious and difficult process. In Ware's case, the end result, her glistening and stirring 2012 debut, Devotion (Universal), shows just how magical this kind of alchemy can be when done right.
"I didn't have the confidence to be a solo singer at the beginning," Ware says. "It seemed too overconfident to actually call myself a singer." Ware's music and overall presentation is almost shockingly demure, a bold move in today's pop world overflowing with the garish and willfully obnoxious. "When I began what became Devotion," Ware says, "I wasn't sure what form it would take, but I did know that I wanted it to be tasteful."
Before she went solo, and after dabbling in musical theater, Ware woodshedded for years as a backup singer for EDM and bass-knob twiddlers like Joker and SBTRKT. By chance, she hooked up with songwriter/producer Dave Okumu, whose airy touch and ability to coax just the right kind of voice from Ware hit pay dirt with the first batch of tunes that eventually became Devotion. "When I was doing the backup thing, I'd also written and recorded a bunch of demos, and a lot of it was bad. Just awful! And I knew that they weren't right, the sound just wasn't right. So it was all about getting the right partnership."
Although Ware has a powerful set of pipes, the majesty of Devotion derives from the way she holds back, using her natural reticence as a tool rather than an obstacle to overcome. "I wanted people to listen to this music when they're driving, when they're on their own, maybe late at night. I didn't want it to feel too intrusive." Far from being background pabulum, though, her songs floor you with their warmth and honesty, pulling off the difficult trick of being danceable without being jarring or unsettling. "I'll keep the dance floor warm, but I'm still dancing on my own," Ware gently repeats on album highlight "110%," in a way that sounds like she's singing to only you, whether you're listening on headphones or on a crowded dance floor. It's a remarkably individual approach from a pop singer who knows that sometimes a quietly soulful voice can reach out and grab you far more effectively than the most melismatic belter, cutting through to an emotional core with the power of smoldering soul.
DANIEL BROCKMAN » DBROCKMAN@PHX.COM
JESSIE WARE:: The Sinclair, 52 Church St, Cambridge :: January 14 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $17 :: 617.451.7700 or sinclaircambridge.com
: Music Features
, Music, soul