Angie Stone - Covered In Soul (2016)

Angie Stone
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Less than a year after 2015’s Dream, esteemed soulstress Angie Stone returns with a collection tracing the musical and vocal influences that have enriched her own style over the past three decades. On Covered in Soul, she reveals a keen appreciation and facility for an assortment of styles which highlight her authentic approach and well-versed delivery. The soulful repertoire ranges from familiar staples such as The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” to surprising selections like Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

Less than a year after 2015’s Dream, esteemed soulstress Angie Stone returns with a collection tracing the musical and vocal influences that have enriched her own style over the past three decades. On Covered in Soul, she reveals a keen appreciation and facility for an assortment of styles which highlight her authentic approach and well-versed delivery. The soulful repertoire ranges from familiar staples such as The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” to surprising selections like Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

Covered in Soul opens with “These Eyes,” the wistful 1969 tune first popularized by rock outfit The Guess Who and later made an R&B hit by Junior Walker & The All-Stars. Stone isn’t the first female artist to put her spin on the nugget (Natalie Cole recorded a version in 1980), but she proves herself an ideal interpreter of it. Employing a rich, slightly scratchy tone, she pulls the pain of the lyrics into full view with candid sensibility. Conversely, she summons up just as much celebration with her compactly rhythmic, zesty reading of “Every 1’s a Winner.” Complimented by Eric Gales’ magnetic electric guitar sliding, it’s a fine homage to the assimilation of rock and disco that would have made songwriter Errol Brown proud.

Given Stone’s diverse musical resume even prior to her solo career—starting out with groundbreaking rap/soul female trio The Sequence, then moving on to sophisticated R&B group Vertical Hold—it makes sense that the material on Covered in Soul reflects similarly versatile flavors. Although she doesn’t bust a rhyme at any point on the CD, she does delve into reggae territory on two numbers: a cool and nifty update of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” (popularized most widely in the 1980s by British band UB40) and a soothing adaptation of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ 1978 gem, “Is This Love.” Both moments showcase Stone’s apt subtlety in phrasing and simultaneously striking tone.

Several classics previously revisited by a range of artists also appear on Covered in Soul, namely Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.” On the former, Stone is at once sultry and understated, backed by an atmospheric musical setting that maintains the essence of the original with modern nuances. The latter features another noteworthy vocal performance, although the rhythmic arrangement is a bit too canned to enhance it. Likewise, the cover of “In the Air Tonight” is not as effective as it could be due to the strictly programmed backing. Stone’s crisp conception of the melody, however, prevents the track from faltering.

One-fourth of Covered in Soul is comprised of new recordings of Stone’s own solo hits. Two songs from her 2001 sophomore album, Mahogany Soul (“Brotha” and “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”) and one from 2007’s The Art of Love & War (“Baby”) are each redone in a fashion comparable to the originals. These really serve more to familiarize a younger generation with her earlier work, as they don’t introduce anything substantially new in their arrangements or vocal interpretation.

Although cover albums these days can signal an easy commercial choice, in Stone’s case the concept is a well-executed move which brings together the disparate elements that have made her discography thus far a rich and rewarding one. Bringing her distinctive technique to each cut in an unpretentious, earnest manner, she delivers a solid set that will appeal to both her longtime fans and newer listeners intrigued by the selection of material. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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