Joss Stone: The Soul Sessions

Jason MacNeil

Joss Stone

The Soul Sessions

Label: S-Curve
US Release Date: 2003-09-16
UK Release Date: 2003-11-24

Joss Stone isn't able to buy a beer in the United States! Hell, she might not be able to drive in many of them. But put her behind a microphone and suddenly it's the early 1960's with her belting out tunes that she has no right singing, songs that people like Aretha or Nina Simone would nail. The buzz behind this young lady is that she has a long and solid career ahead of her, with the deep dark bluster of her voice paving the way. So, it's this album, with a myriad of covers recorded over a brief two-month period, which gets things off on solid footing.

The first tune is a cover of the Harlan Howard tune, "The Chokin' Kind" -- a gospel-tinged track that Stone starts out on slowly but does shows the depth of her voice. And thankfully it's more of a soulful voice than those so-called soul divas out there today. The arrangement brings to mind a '70s Stevie Wonder-meets-Marvin Gaye style. "I only meant to love you / Didn't you know it baby", Stone sings with ease. It's a voice that oozes sex appeal as Benny Latimore's piano weaves some magic. A slight comparison might be made to Canadian Amanda Marshall, but Stone's voice is far smoother and fluid. By the two-minute mark, when she starts hitting harder notes, she has you in the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, "Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin' on Me?) Pt. 1" seems a tad forced, moving along similar lines as the prior songs, but with Stone opting for a quicker, pop-soul delivery a la Macy Gray.

A large surprise is a reworking of "Fell in Love with a Girl", the White Stripes rocker. Here Stone gives "Fell in Love with a Boy", a groove-riddled, funky hip-shaker that never loses momentum. With backing vocals from Angie Stone and Betty Wright, the song hits its stride by the second verse. Although the song doesn't soar from there, Stone's performance near the two-thirds mark seals the deal! A softer, ballad-like approach for "Victim of a Foolish Heart" doesn't quite hit paydirt. It's a style that's been done to death, and here Stone adds little to the proceedings. Possibly Mary J. Blige could give this tune more oomph, but it's not meant to be on this ditty. A refrain of "I'm not gonna let him make me", that wraps up the song seems very forced and peters out quickly.

"Dirty Man" is a slower, bluesy acoustic effort which a band like the Black Crowes or a solo Chris Robinson would fit perfectly on in a duet. Showing off her pipes in this fashion is excellent, as she allows her voice to obviously take the brunt of the song, carrying it with sickening ease. Hitting notes that haven't been hit since Joplin (Janis, not Scott!), Stone makes you want to hit replay before the song even ends. "Some Kind of Wonderful" is given new life with a slower, moodier funk riff underneath her solid voice. What the keyboard and guitar does could be accented even further with brief horns in the chorus to fill or round out the sound just a tad. Stone works best with the funk, especially on the pretty "I've Fallen in Love With You". Here, the strings add a lush and richer sound but thankfully never go over the top. It tends to stall with the harmonies added, but not enough to not be impressive.

The gospel tint rears its heavenly head on "All the King's Horses", and here Stone hits another high point, letting the song build slowly before taking it to the next level. Mixing a bit of funk with reggae and gospel, the tune is inventive but still has an old-school soul feeling to it. And Stone provides that soul in abundance. And for a finale, Stone chooses "For the Love of You, Pts. 1 & 2", a great rendition of the Isley Brothers tune. Spanning some seven minutes and change, the song shows Stone possessing a sultry Norah Jones-like quality on this track. The dichotomy of power and sultriness is the track's greatest asset. It's that same duality that should provide Joss Stone with a career that knows no limits. And to only be in her teens, sheesh....

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