No artist streamlines this new wave of R&B quite as nicely as London vocalist Jessie Ware. Earning her cred singing guest vocals for post-dubstep producer SBTRKT, Ware struck gold on her own in 2012 with her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, Devotion.
As a rookie she was a self-proclaimed "nervous wreck," but on her sophomore album, Tough Love, Ware quickly demonstrates that in just two years she has gained extraordinary confidence. Tough Love doesn't exactly try to reinvent her sound but continues what Ware started with Devotion: an expertly produced, radio-friendly mix of soul and pop.
Ware has made no secret of the help she received in making Tough Love and she chose her collaborators well. R&B stud Miguel helped co-write both "You & I Forever," a massive ballad fit for Top 40 dominance, and the seductively playful romp "Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe." Dev Hynes' contribution, "Want Your Feeling," is exactly the kind of chic number we've come to expect from him, accented nicely by James Ford's production. Let's hope these friends hook up more often.
It's acoustic pop marvel Ed Sheeran's "Say You Love Me" that turns out to be the biggest surprise, however. Say what you will of the music he releases, but Sheeran knows how to give a voice like Ware's the kind of big scale heartbreaker that can reduce anyone to tears.
As great as they are, the A-list contributions shouldn't completely overshadow Ware's efforts. She delivers a powerhouse vocal on "Pieces," a power ballad for the ages, and even gets a little blithe with the drum machine-assisted, Gorillaz-esque "Keep On Lying."
Tough Love is a tour de force album, one that nails heartache with sophistication and class. With it, Jessie Ware aligns herself with her idol Sade and friend Adele as one of the most beguiling voices in music.
Read our recent interview with Jessie Ware here. (PMR/Interscope)