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Jorja Smith

O2 Academy, Oxford
11th February 2018

The 2018 Brits Critics’ Choice Award recipient, 20-year-old Walsall-bred Jorja Smith, started writing songs at school – some of which form the backbone of her setlist tonight – but you can’t help but celebrate rather than begrudge her precociousness. Of the seventeen tracks performed, one (Frank Ocean’s ‘Lost’) is a cover and seven are as yet unreleased – bold, given that she is yet to release her debut album, but less of a risk now that live videos of the latter are already on YouTube and a lot of the audience thus already know the words.

On ‘Teenage Fantasy’ and ‘Imperfect Circle’, Jorja’s smooth, vibrato-tinged R&B voice and traditional keyboard/guitar/bass/drums backing setup calls to mind early-90s new jack swing; she doesn’t need star producers like Teddy Riley or Jam & Lewis to give her charisma, though. She has a good stab at making her vocals sound semi-improvised, especially on the empowering ‘Beautiful Little Fools’, but a lot of effort must go into making this all so effortless and laid-back. She excels when her voice is brought to the fore – by a single guitar on ‘Goodbyes’, piano on ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’, and a skilful instrumental arrangement on the emotive string-heavy, Adele-recalling ‘Let Me Down’ – and when she takes advantage of the top of her range, though on occasion her riff intervals could do with more variety.

She doesn’t just sing, though: she talk-raps a critique of the government on the feisty extended metaphor ‘Lifeboats’ and scat-sings on ‘Blue Lights’, which is the highlight of the night both performance- and reception-wise: a Dizzee Rascal-sampling plaintive semi-ballad that counsels ‘There’s no need to run / If you’ve done nothing wrong’. Jorja’s wisdom-beyond-her-years is here underlined by an Air-esque glochenspiel-like synth, giving an innocent, music-box edge to the heavy lyrical material, and this sums up the night: playful yet accomplished.

 

From Nightshift, March 2018

About

Editorial services

Kirsten has over a decade of editorial experience in the publishing industry. She is available for structural editing, copy-editing and proofreading. Please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

She has also written children’s books under the name Antonia Jackson. Her books have (incredibly!) been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, Polish and Korean.

 

Music journalism

Kirsten has been writing music reviews for over fifteen years.

 

Academic work

Kirsten is currently studying for a PhD in popular music at Oxford Brookes University.