Introducing Joss Stone

For what it’s worth, this writer was never convinced by Joss Stone. Folk eulogised about old soul in a young body, but I always thought she was playing dress-up, in R&B clothes that didn’t fit yet.

For what it’s worth, this writer was never convinced by Joss Stone. Folk eulogised about old soul in a young body, but I always thought she was playing dress-up, in R&B clothes that didn’t fit yet, cursed with the whiff of X Factor… it was all a bit Sally O’Brien and the way she might be trine na conneck wit choo.

Well, ya boo sucks to me. Stone sold seven million copies of her first two albums, duetted with Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson and, um, Robbie Williams, and was one of the select Brit club to crack America like a big boiled egg (Superbowl engagements, performing for the Prez, you name it). The American label are treating this third album like the second coming.

More importantly, Introducing, as you might have gathered by the title, is being touted as a new start by the singer herself. And sure enough, having reached the grand old age of 19, there’s new flint in her lighter, and she’s made an effortless transition from Devon ingenue to a naturalised Californian who smokes roll-ups and digs Dusty. It’s out with the ‘70s standards and songwriting-by-committee stuff, in with original material, much of it hatched in the Caribbean last year. One gets the impression she’s been watching Amy Winehouse’s fortunes with keen interest.

Introducing opens with a daft Vinny Jones monologue before kicking into ‘Girl They Won’t Believe It’, a borderline barrelhouse shuffle with a vocal pitched halfway between Mariah and Al Green, swooping Philly strings and groovy falsetto backing vocals. Like most of what follows, it’s pretty damn great.

Tracks like ‘Headturner’ are deftly pitched between modern urban and old school inner city soul, with the odd sub-Santana solo anchored by a big, blocky kick drum. Only occasionally do you still get the feeling the B-girl street argot sounds wrong coming out of her purty li’l mouth, an English Rose promenading before the mirror in front of imaginary Ikettes. But hot damn, she can squeal.

Cop an ear to ‘Tell Me Bout It’, which is ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ set to a tight neo-dancehall skank, or ‘Put Your Hands On Me’, an unambiguously libidinous tub-thumper with advanced decks-terity and bottom-heavy baritone sax. Among the album’s various coups, she’s managed to coax Lauryn Hill off the bleachers and onto the mic for the hypnotic ‘Music’, which is club savvy enough to make both Aguilera and Knowles sit up and take notice.

As if taking its cue from the latter’s B’Day, the record is low on saccharine balladry, high on rhythm protein. Even a weepie like ‘Bruised But Not Broken’ adheres to a strictly observed pavement pulse, while the big production closing number ‘What Were We Thinking’ boasts a soul-baring vocal that’d strip paint.

Furthermore, if you’ll excuse the nerd-boy intrusion, Introducing has one of the best dry drum sounds since Charlie Watts’s orthodox snare snap (the syncoptated Latin samba shapes on the rather wonderful ‘Arms Of My Baby’ are nothing short of mouth watering).

Introducing is a bloody good soul record. Girl growed up. Good for her.


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