Joss Stone - LP1

Joss Stone

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Describing Joss Stone’s musical manifesto can be a toughie. Below the surface of her soulful bluesy chops and her over-cooked affectations, the English singer boasts the grit of Janis Joplin and the timbre of Dusty Springfield. When you frolic through her bundle of records, you discover a mix bag of Aretha soul (“Tell Me ‘Bout It,” “Spoiled,” “Super Duper Love”) and lots of funk (“You Had Me,” “Fell In Love with a Boy”). On her third offering, 2007’s Introducing Joss Stone, the singer successfully got her hands dirty with grittier updated R&B and funk while dipped in Raphael Saadiq’s smart production.  Two albums later, Joss Stone is now hoping to reinvent her style once again. Under the auspice of Eurythmic Dave A. Stewart and now free from her limitation trappings at EMI, Stone journeys to the country music parsonage of Nashville, Tennessee to kick off a new beginning on LP1.

Describing Joss Stone’s musical manifesto can be a toughie. Below the surface of her soulful bluesy chops and her over-cooked affectations, the English singer boasts the grit of Janis Joplin and the timbre of Dusty Springfield. When you frolic through her bundle of records, you discover a mix bag of Aretha soul (“Tell Me ‘Bout It,” “Spoiled,” “Super Duper Love”) and lots of funk (“You Had Me,” “Fell In Love with a Boy”). On her third offering, 2007’s Introducing Joss Stone, the singer successfully got her hands dirty with grittier updated R&B and funk while dipped in Raphael Saadiq’s smart production.  Two albums later, Joss Stone is now hoping to reinvent her style once again. Under the auspice of Eurythmic Dave A. Stewart and now free from her limitation trappings at EMI, Stone journeys to the country music parsonage of Nashville, Tennessee to kick off a new beginning on LP1. On this re-reinvention album, Stone appears to be in love with R&B, but somehow swivels her direction to accommodate folk, Americana, blues, gospel, rock and more. It’s as if Stone had an epiphany while listening to Adele’s 21, but somehow slips away from the lively youthfulness and focus of her previous albums. Adding more insult to injury is the happenstance clouding the album’s readiness: it was completed in just six days.

LP1 paces like a small-scale version of Stone’s debut, The Soul Sessions, while gradually trying to morph into Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St, but the problems embedded beneath the grooves seem to arise to the top. “Newborn” opens up like an acoustic rendering of Beyoncé’s lusty ballad “1+1,” but as it builds off of Stone’s belting set to a preachy lyric (“Everybody get over hate/You turned up too late/That trick's over”), the cut unveils its stripes as an undercover “If I Were A Boy.” It’s a good moment for Stone, but never evolving to be definitive. On “Karma,” co-penned by country star Martina McBride, Stone shreds through thorn-stricken Memphis blues and amps up her angst using her muscular vocal chops. She certainly recalls the fired-up attitude of “You Got Me,” shown heavily on the chorus  (“You are what you are/I saw what I saw/Come as your master/and you're the bitch”), but the song’s anger seems overly sporadic as its radio sensibilities come crashing down due to an uneven syncopation of hooks.

Just about much of LP1 abandons the idea of asserting catchy hooks into Stone’s experiment, like “Don’t Start Lying to Me Now,” which oozes with Allen Toussaint’s jam sweat but it lacks the “sing-a-long” factor. “Somehow” tries to put Stone in the comforts of sunny pop-rock, but ends up repeating the same mistakes of “Lying to Me Now.” Even “Drive All Night,” which sounds like a cozy Quiet Storm ballad, gets slaughtered as the lyrics are strung together like never-ending run-on sentences.

As the album gallops along, the old Stone gets thrown into the waters as she harnesses up her newly-discovered Tennessee pride. Closing tracks “Landlord” and “Take Good Care” sound like bluesy barroom impromptu moments, while “Boat Yard” manages to create an epic, arena-rock workout in the style of Kings of Leon.

An iTunes deluxe edition reveals two bonus tracks, including a honky-tonk duet with Stewart (“Picnic for Two”). “Cutting The Breeze,” probably the better in the bunch and sadly omitted from the original listing, swings with the spunk of Kid Rock’s newly-discovered country-rock. Stax soul, jangly guitars and a need for a Marlboro break (“with just enough time to have a smoke or two”) helps the song stay upright against Stone’s unbridled soul power.

The most aggravating mistake aboard LP1 is how the songs simply have a hard time gelling together. Pop melodies and her familiar groovy patterns are sorely neglected. The draggy pace of the album isn’t all that comfortable either against the immensely strong chops of Stone. Because of the moderate tempo dominating the disc, Stone extracts her Christina Aguilera “over-souling” technique to almost every song. She does all the right swoops, squeals and squalls, even mastering her vibrato trigger, but LP1 intentionally robs her of the coolness she used to exuding while trying so hard to experiment with alt-country – the flavor of the day. Things would’ve been a whole lot better had Stone and Stewart kept working on the seventh day. Mildly recommended

By J Matthew Cobb

 

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