There’s always been something special about Jorja Smith. Since the Walsall-raised artist’s arrival in 2016 with her breakout hit ‘Blue Lights’, there’s been a certain magnetism about her: the voice is technically sensational, and there’s truth to every word sung. Early comparisons to Amy Winehouse, her idol, were not unwarranted, and her ability to resonate with listeners across the spectrum only blossomed.
Her 2018 debut ‘Lost & Found’ showcased that personality, if only in subtle ways: with the tasteful R&B and pop stylings, it felt like a safe first step to satiate the hype rather than a defining musical portrait. Musical collaborations with Drake, Burna Boy, and rising star Enny continued to build the star and myth around her.
It was 2021’s ‘Be Right Back’, a mid-pandemic mixtape, that simmered with Smith’s most intriguing material yet, like someone realising where their path was headed and how to harness it. She hasn’t looked back: ‘Falling or Flying’, her second studio album, is a triumph because of that conviction. Having decided that London was not conducive to her life and music-making, she moved back home to the Midlands, keen to rekindle the pre-fame Jorja that the industry didn’t want you to see but that existed every time the mic was off. In an accompanying statement, she says that formative years growing up in the industry had made her a “people pleaser” and that moving home helped her be “better at trusting myself, not doubting myself as much, and not being so affected and worried by other peoples’ opinions.”
On ‘Falling or Flying’, she teams up with DAMEDAME*, an emerging production duo who also happen to be Smith’s pals from back home; their presence is keenly felt, the trio coursing with ideas and freedom. From the mesmerising opener ‘Try Me’ to ‘Little Things’, a nod to UK funky that has potential to rival ‘On My Mind’ for her biggest dancefloor heater, ‘Falling or Flying’ reveals itself much like Solange’s 2019 album ‘When I Get Home’: an uncompromising and arresting treasure of a record. Even ‘Go Go Go’, a fairly formulaic, indie-indebted number, is the type of song that could only spring from febrile recording sessions with close confidantes: it’s not hard to picture the three thrashing along hard and laughing at each other above the din.
Scarcely any songs on ‘Falling or Flying’ sound the same, but the throughline of Smith trusting her gut remains and reconnecting with herself remains a guiding constant. ‘Greatest Gift’, a song about Smith reconnecting with her younger self, is as touching as she’s ever sounded as a pertinent message rings true: I promise to make sure you’ll never fall far from your grace / I hope that you know you are never too far from your purpose” she reminds herself. ‘Falling or Flying’ was the record she was destined to make, she just had to allow herself to get there.
- Release date: September 29, 2023
- Record label: FAMM