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It’s always wise to return to your roots once in a while, and Jessie Ware’s latest track If You Love Me is a perfect case in point. The Brixton-based singer has had wonderful success this year as a solo artist with her debut album ‘Devotion’ (watch our exclusive video interview with Jessie Ware here), but the build up to the album was founded on a series of innovative and well-played collaborative efforts. Ever since her first outing with SBTRKT on their track Nervous in 2010, and in particular with Sampha on Valentine in February of this year, her journey has been a delight to behold in part because we’ve come to see what an accustomed ear she has for exciting new producers.
Having worked with the likes of Julio Bashmore on spring single 110%, SBTRKT on his album tracks Sanctuary and Right Thing To Do and released the aforementioned Nervous via the eclectic Glaswegian dance label Numbers, it’s her love for modern British dance music as well as classic female vocalists like Whitney Houston and Sade that raised her debut above the average singer-songwriter outing and into a unique space of her own. Through such collaborations early in her career and her desire to retain this edge in her own solo work, Ware has confirmed her ability to move from a feature singer to a fully-fledged solo artist.
As something of a prelude to her forthcoming and as yet untitled EP this December on CherryTree/Interscope, If You Love Me is a fantastic example of this well-handled balancing act. First of all, it’s the enduring influence of 1990s US R&B girl groups that really shines through here: the sensuality of Jade, the pop sensibilities of En Vogue and the fierce-yet-nonchalant attitude of SWV all come together in Ware in a way that is, as she herself told Pitchfork, befitting of a “white, middle-class Jewish girl” from South London. Whilst the harmony acrobatics of these groups are well known for their powerful delivery Ware’s take on the style is very much hers: more fragile, breathing and tentative, but all the more endearing for it.
If You Love Me is less of a cover and more of a re-work of the original 1994 Brownstone a capella track because Ware has picked up on new talent in the form of mysterious Japanese teenage duo BenZel on the production to give it a few cute twists. Ware’s voice is influenced by rather than of this school of R&B vocal groups as whilst the original is a master-class in soulful harmonising, it is undoubtedly of its time. For Ware to have done a straight cover would have dated her sound but, once again, her attention to the more overtly electronic elements keeps it of the moment.
The use of the harmony especially allows for this re-work to sound thoroughly modern: a trigger-happy sample that functions as a loving reference to the original whilst, most importantly, not overriding Ware’s own vocal performance. There’s often a risk of Ware’s quieter moments being swamped by an off-kilter sample or big sweeping guitar riff but the playful stuttering production and lightness of being of the track overall is an apt compliment to her voice, and is occasionally reminiscent of the SBTRKT tracks that introduced her. It’s an easily identifiable outing of Ware’s yet this isn’t necessarily a negative. For this to be potentially deemed quintessentially Ware in a sense is evidence of her creative progression this year, and that for her to once again collaborate on a track so comfortably after proving herself as a solo artist shows a well-developed strength of presence.