Devon’s Finest makes Motown-laced return
Four albums and as many accents later, the sultry bohemian songbird is back and this time... she’s all grown up.
Kicking off with a smoky R‘n’B flourish, ‘Free Me’ is about as subtle as... well, the album cover art, which sees the 22-year-old prodigy reaching out from inside a cage, hammering home her sentiments on a rather boring label battle that played out earlier this year over Colour Me Free (again, very subtle, Joss).
The faux Motown shuffle on ‘Governmentalist’ is an example of Stone’s sarky side paying off. It’s backed up by some well-honed ‘60s girl group stylings and a tasteful appearance by Nas, who’s sounding particularly ‘Kanye’ right now. Likewise, the glorious ‘4 And 20’ is vintage soul to the core and could well be a Temptations B-side. The seemingly ad-libbed conclusion is 30 seconds of vocal spectacle every singer should hear.
These and ‘Parallel Lines’ (featuring Jeff Beck for some perplexing reason, but one mustn’t grumble) are all commanding, confident tracks, but this is where Colour Me Free takes a regrettable turn. A cover of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’ is totally superfluous and ‘I Believe It To My Soul’ is textbook Etta James cliché that not even a superb David Sanborn saxophone solo can save. Elsewhere, ‘Lady’ depicts Stone’s disturbing ‘I’m Nasty, Not Trashy’ struggle with her sexual urges (she’s legal now, it’s allowed).
‘Stalemate’ is entirely different, with lead vocals coming from Ben’s Brother frontman Jamie Hartman but it, too, packs no punch whatsoever and by the time Joss begs ‘Why don’t you look me in the eyes when we’re making love?’ on fuck-buddy lament ‘Girlfriend On Demand’, I’m well and truly out.
By starting her career with an album of covers (2003’s rather good The Soul Sessions), it was always going to be difficult for Stone’s own writing to match up to the great Motown songbook. What carries Colour Me Free is her ever-astonishing voice, which swiftly puts in their place any soulstresses to come along and vie for her Sexy Young Aretha crown.
Colour Me Free undoubtedly showcases Stone’s strongest self-penned material to date but –and here’s the conundrum – if I’m honest, I’d still rather hear her do a Jack White track.
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