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Joss Stone - 'The Soul Sessions'
(Wednesday February 4, 2004 11:03 AM )

Released on 02/02/2004
Label: Relentless

A good-looking blonde British teenager, Stone was well on the way to fulfilling her limited dream of Britney-aping chart-bothering musical success. Producer-manager Steve Greenburg, though, decided she was destined for greater things. He turned her on to a bunch of soul records made in the late '60s and early '70s in Florida, and within weeks she was in a Miami studio with those very musicians, not only accepted in their midst but feted by folks who really ought to know a decent voice when they hear one.

Apart from infectious lead single, 'Fell In Love With A Boy', a gender-switched White Stripes cover backed by the peerless Roots crew, "The Soul Sessions" is the product of an intensive series of studio stints in Miami under the meticulous guidance of relatively obscure soul legend Betty Wright. It's a record that benefits from the homogenous, warm feeling such an intimate set-up can make for, the tracks setting up Stone's remarkable voice rather than intentionally distracting from the singer's limitations, as is the case with most contemporary R&B.

Not for Stone the histrionics of the Mariahs or the Whitneys, though she could easily do all that multi-syllabic pirouetting if she felt like it. Her nearest pop peer is Macy Gray, the only other female soul star of the present who seems as keen to rekindle the '70s spirit of Al Green, Ann Peebles and the Muscle Shoals shuffle.

It's easy to be cynical, to assume that Stone's youth and willingness to be directed (it was Greenburg who suggested most of the material, including the Stripes cover) make her no less a puppet than the Michelles, the Wills or the Gareths. But she sings like she believes in herself, and will surely only improve as age and experience add depth to both the singer and the songs. Think of Stone, and to an extent her peer and fellow youthful, good-looking purveyor of old-fashioned music, Jamie Cullum, as the inevitable antidote to the ever blander output of the Pap Idol Academies. In that context, at the very least, this is fine enough.

    by Angus Batey

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