Jorja Smith review – jazzy languor from a Drake-certified star

The Haunt, Brighton
The 19-year-old singer from Walsall delicately conveys heartsickness and uncertainty with perhaps the finest voice to be tipped this year

The stars are aligning for Jorja Smith. The Walsall 19-year-old came fourth in the BBC Sound of 2017 poll, and her Dizzee Rascal-sampling track Blue Lights impressed both critics and a growing teen fanbase. Most helpfully of all, at a time when a nod from the right idol can have an instant effect, she’s a Drake-certified artist, featuring on the track Get It Together on his More Life “playlist”.

Tonight, the song has her running rings around Drake’s recorded vocals – not difficult, admittedly, but the contrast between his croak and her jazzy languor draws attention to perhaps the finest voice to have been tipped this year.

This gig suggests that Smith will be an easy sell. The influence of her favourite album, Amy Winehouse’s Frank, looms smokily, aligning her with R&B’s current penchant for cool introspection. And most of her subject matter – the death of a friend on Goodbyes, a Walsall boy’s encounter with the police on a rapturously received Blue Lights – plays to the same strengths. “Directionally” dressed in a kind of shortened monk’s habit, she stands still and pours her resources into delicately conveying heartsickness and uncertainty.

What she isn’t, at least yet, is a commanding force. Irish singer/MC Maverick Sabre, by comparison, is. Striding on to accompany her on the trap duet A Prince, he’s a bundle of raddled drama; next to this sabre, Smith is a bit of a blunt blade. It’s a problem she could easily resolve, though, and it would be foolish not to watch this space.

• At Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds, 5 April. Box office: 0113-234 6160. Then touring until 7 April.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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