Jstokes - Golden Lady (2008)

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    I try to learn something about an artist before writing a review. Most of these performers aren't exactly household names. That means I'm often coming into this thing blind, so I feel that I owe it to these artists to try to find learn something about their resume. I power up the computer and go where Google leads me. Mainly, the Internet leads me to a myspace page, Amazon or CD Baby. My search for information about Detroit based soul singer Jstokes lead me to You Tube. There was some live performance footage of Jstokes there. In one of them, an emcee introduced the singer by comparing her sound to Chrisette Michele.

    I caught the connection on my first listen, and the similarities are strongest on some of Golden Lady's mid-tempo and slow songs, such as "Never Go Away." Still, the best moments on Golden Lady come when Jstokes showcases her individuality as well as her ability to perform styles ranging from jazz, blues and modern R&B/hip hop fusion.

    Jstokes takes listeners on that tour in Golden Lady's first eight songs. The soul jam "The Rain" shows that Jstokes is a student Detroit music history with a song that covers the same musical territory as the Dramatics' "In The Rain." Of course, giving the album the same title as the classic Stevie Wonder song also shows that Jstokes knows and honors her Motown history, but I digress. In the song, Jstokes wonders why she allows her lover to cavalierly toy with her emotions. And like the Dramatics, Jstokes wants to use a rain shower to cover her tears.

    Jstokes flips the script on the bluesy, slow drag tune "Good Man," in which she extols the virtue of hard working brothers and admonishes the sisters to appreciate the good guys. The singer gets assertive on the hip hop/soul cut "All Night Long." The next song, "Don't Say A Word," which is another hip-hop influenced tune, is one Golden Lady's highlights. The song propelled by a deep bass and programmed drum beat finds Jstokes telling her lover that his many explanations for his infidelity have fallen flat. It features one of those catchy lyrics and a radio friendly hook: "Don't say a word (I already know)/About her (that's why you're never around/Don't talk to me/I ain't missin' you no more/Cryin' here no more/Stayin' here."

    The next two tracks, the torch song "This Kind of Blue," and "In Love With U," both show that Jstokes can more than hold her own as a jazz singer.

    That kind of musical diversity means that Golden Lady is at its best during those first eight songs. There are some good moments in the album's second half with the soul jam "Love Me or Don't" and the sassy "Where Were U" being standouts. However, the lack of daring of variety makes the album's second half less interesting. But even though Golden Lady bogs down toward the end, this is still a solid effort in which Jstokes asserts her musical individuality.

    By Howard Dukes