Jorja Smith nailed down her velvet-tinged neo-soul persona on debut album ‘Lost & Found’, a wildly successful record that thrives on intimacy and nuanced, with its subdued tone reliant on her sublime vocal control. There’s a fair argument, however, that this isn’t Jorja in her full 360 – often her most thrilling music comes in a more up tempo sphere, placing her voice against club tropes. With that in mind, Jorja’s ongoing post-album song cycle has brought some of her most thrilling music – the spicy Popcaan collaboration ‘Come Over’, the powerful ‘By Any Means’, or her Ezra Collective enabled take on the Blue Note classic ‘Rose Rouge’.
‘Be Right Back’ – a project, not an album – builds on this energy, expanding on the luxurious modern soul of her hugely successful debut while adding a few nods to the underground in there, too. It’s a thrilling listen – upping the pulse while refusing to sacrifice her innate sense of control, it arguably contains of her best music to date.
‘Addicted’ is a sensational opener, Jorja’s vocal laden down with regret on top of those endlessly undulating drums. ‘Gone’ taps back in her UK roots for the production, with 2-step spectres interwoven around her half-spoken lyric. ‘Time’ – one word titles are a hallmark of her newfound directness, it seems – is a downbeat piece of acoustic reflection, while ‘Burn’ is carried along by those jazz impulses, a kind of London-centric Soulquarian vibe.
Largely shorn of guests, ‘Be Right Back’ does make room for Shaybo on summer-ready bouncer ‘Bussdown’; a truly addictive piece of songwriting, it’s almost tailor made for those festival sets – should they get the go ahead from authorities, of course.
Closing with Jorja’s wonderfully organic paean to freedom, ‘Weekend’ finds her vocal pirouetting into the upper register before surging down to those crisp, carefully articulates expressions of empowerment. It’s a tour de force in her abilities, but it works mainly due to its emotional pull, a heart-heavy heft that aspects of her debut lacked.
A project of persona evolution, ‘Be Right Back’ finds Jorja Smith in motion – she’s opening out her sound, and finessing her approach. The results are immaculate – and she’s only just getting started.
Words: Robin Murray
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