White British soul singer Joss Stone offers a cure for the Winehouse blues with her harder-rocking fifth album
Well, it wasn’t an all-bad week for white English soul singers.
Joss Stone may not be the most original performer to inhabit that slot, but her fifth album, “LP1,” may be the partial antidote we need to help cure the post-Winehouse blues.
It’s her most arresting effort yet, largely because it takes her out of her R&B comfort zone — an area that Amy Winehouse could reinvent through sheer force of wit, but where the more earnest Stone could sound a bit more affected as she established her old-soul credentials.
This time, she’s less Aretha and more Janis. Working with her for the first time, producer Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) goes for a much harder-rocking sound than she’s had before, working with a Nashville band that sounds like the Stones when they aren’t veering a bit westward to evoke the steamier side of Memphis soul.
Not coincidentally, perhaps, Stone and Stewart have joined Mick Jagger for a supergroup, Super Heavy, that is set to release an album in the fall. At times, “LP1” sounds like it could be a primer for that forthcoming effort, especially with the keyboard-and-guitar interplay of “Karma” sounding like it’s right out of the “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” era. “Cutting the Breeze” — a bonus track that ends the deluxe edition — might have you studying the credits to make sure Keith and Ronnie didn’t sneak in for a guest appearance.
Fans of Stone’s previous albums — dating back to her 2003 debut, released when she was a precocious soul mama of 16 — may not cotton to the louder, more raw stuff here, with the singer abandoning classic R&B for rock just when Adele is making her former style more commercially palatable than ever.
But Stone is big on nothing if not setting her own course. She fought to escape her contract with her former major label, to the point that her last album opened with a song that had her wailing, “Free me, EMI!” Now she’s on her own label, and regardless of whether she was a bit insolent in her past anti-majors protests, she’s not wasting her independence. This isn’t the first time she’s used an album title to signify a fresh, more artistic start: Her third one, after all, was called “Introducing Joss Stone.” But the rockiness really does invigorate “LP1.”
There are moments of overreaching, as just about anyone with one of the most powerful voices in music might be susceptible to. A couple of numbers that have her accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, like “Landlord,” could have used more toned-down vocals, too, in contrast to her all-or-nothing intensity.
But if you want to hear some seriously solid dynamics, check out “Drive All Night,” one of the best of the many songs that have gone by that title. In the verses, Stone captures the uncertainty of a tentative relationship: “I started to worry: Do I smell nice?…/Then I go and kiss you/And the followup from that was a whole bunch of nothing.” But the chorus has her boyfriend making an all-night road trip just to see her, and she exults, “No one’s ever drove for miles to make me smile before.”
For such a wrenchingly blues-based singer, it’s an unusually happy ending … the kind we all could especially use this week.
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