Jorja Smith is a precociously and prodigiously talented young Brit whose voice shows a nuance and maturity beyond that of most singers, let alone ones who turn 21 on Monday. She’s duetted with both Drake and Kendrick Lamar and opened for Bruno Mars on a five-week arena tour last year, yet she’s just now releasing her first album.
It was worth the wait: “Lost & Found” could make her the breakout star of the year. It’s a combination of classic and contemporary sounds, mixing Amy Winehouse, Sade and a little bit of “Baduizm” in a way that also fits alongside the hip-hop-informed R&B songstresses of the few years, but Smith’s distinctive voice and the album’s mid-tempo beats and spare, simple hooks set it apart. And while the music occasionally drifts into a Sam Smithian gilt frame or Jill Scott-ish jazz-lite chill, it’s her commanding voice that puts the songs back on track. One listen to Smith’s 2016 EP “Project 11” — where the Winehouse influence is more obvious — shows how far she’s come in just a year and change.
The highlights are many, but the best introductions are “Teenage Fantasy” — a smokey, laid-back groove with a haunting instrumental hook and a killer chorus — and her first single, “Blue Light,” which is probably the most direct and immediate track on an album that’s nothing if not subtle. Elsewhere, the gospel-ish “Tomorrow” highlights her strong but sparingly used upper register, and “Lifeboats” shows she’s no slouch as a rapper (and one who uses her thick British accent to full effect). Although the LP does linger by the exit — the last three tracks all feel like closers — it’s a real album, with an arc and continuity. “Lost & Found” is one of those rare records that’s adventurous but can also appeal to that aunt or sister-in-law or Grammy voter who finds a new artist they like every 15 years.