As far as introductions to the world go, Jorja Smith probably could not have asked for a better one. Not only was she featured on Drake's More Life, but her guest appearance came with an interlude named after her and she beat the world's foremost hitmaker at his own game. At his best, Drake captivates the world through melody, but on "Get It Together," Jorja showed what a true vocalist can do when presented with his palette.
Last Friday, just days ahead of her 21st birthday, the British songstress reintroduced herself to the world, this time alone, sans any male co-signer and she may have topped her once-in-a-lifetime, original epic intro with her debut album, the aptly-titled Lost & Found. For nearly an hour, across 12 lush tracks, Smith finds ways to weave R&B, soul, dancehall, folk, jazz and even a smidge of rap into a vibrant tapestry, all buoyed by those same vocals that stole Drake's show a year ago.
Despite her youth, Smith feels just as found and sure of herself as the album's title promises, confidently exploring the world and her new, rejuvenated self. There's an endearing exuberance to her exploration, to her realization that her pain isn't the end of the world, and that there may even be some sort of positives to glean out of what seemed like such a bleak situation. Through whatever plight she's seen, she's emerged self-assured, stronger because of what she's experienced and unafraid of whatever is coming next.
The album's title track and opener begins with the type of life-spanning question you'd expect from someone who is, by all means, an adult, but not truly an adult just yet: "Why do we all fall down with innocence still on the ground?" She immediately dives into an infatuation with an object of her affection that she admittedly fantasized would arrive in her life at some point, answering her own question in a sense.
In Jorja's world, that infatuation is to be lost, and it's both positive and negative. At the end of "Lost & Found," she proclaims that she's "gone" with a twinge of guilt, or fear about just what that means exactly. A few songs later on "February 3rd," she longingly asks, or begs, her lover to lose themselves for her, and be just as lost in love as she is. By the end of that exhilarating four minutes, she has another moment of discovery as she realizes that being lost and being found go hand-in-hand: "When sometimes you could be lost, you could be found / I've been lost, I've been lost again and I've been found / Then I found myself but I'm constantly finding myself."
What makes Jorja resonate so much isn't just her message, but the way she brilliantly and so passionately belts it out. The somber moments are few and far between, as Jorja decides hushed tones simply won't do, and something more operatic is the proper means of transmission.
Even when the moments are sullen, as Jorja has to suffer through the misery that begets the type of revelations she sees throughout the album, she endures that agony with the same poise and certainty as before. On the album's penultimate track "Tomorrow," on top of glum keys and a thundering drum ramble, she defiantly stares that misery and herself in the eyes and proudly insists "Don't you wonder why, I won't say goodbye, I won't even cry, It will all make sense tomorrow."
Sonically, and thematically, Smith harkens back to another Brit who mesmerized the entire planet with her own special brand of anguish. Just like Jorja, Amy Winehouse was just 20 years old when she released her debut album Frank in 2003, and became a stateside sensation in the process. But where Amy seemed to wallow, toil, and even live comfortably in her heartache and torment, Smith seems to power through it and reinvigorate herself on the other side.
Winehouse grew into a legend with her own blend of R&B, soul, dancehall, folk, jazz and even a smidge of rap, and Smith would be hard-pressed to deny the influence of that on her own work. But there are plenty of lanes on the highway, and even some room on the median to forge new lanes. It looks like that will be the route for Smith, no longer in need of Drake's palette to impress, instead painting with her own, even if some of the hues of Amy are splotched onto the apparatus.
On Lost & Found, Smith forcefully wedges herself into that gaping void left by Winehouse after her untimely death in 2011. She's not so much her successor as much as she's another woman, with a powerful voice going through her own journey of self-discovery, and she's not ashamed of the odyssey nor is she afraid to share it with her listeners. In a way, she's picking up where Amy left off, but Jorja is also going to places Amy never got the chance to get to.
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