Joss Stone appears to have done herself a favour by putting pop production behind her in the country-tinged album.
CD Review: LP1 - Joss Stone
"The only country that hasn't liked [my music] is my own," the multiplatinum-selling artist Joss Stone told BBC Radio in 2007. The British soul singer, whose huge voice led to her being discovered at just 14, has lived in the US for most of the past decade. "It's like coming home and having them be like, 'Go away, we don't like you'. It's the whole country, and it's like they're mad at me for being in the US."
Her comments followed a very public slamming in UK newspapers after an appearance at the Brit Awards, during which she appeared to speak in an American accent. But a terrifying event last month showed that media snobbery might have been the least of her worries.
Just weeks after she attended the royal wedding on April, it was revealed that police in her native Devon had foiled a plot to murder the 24-year-old singer, with her estimated £9 million (Dh53.2m) fortune believed to have been the motive behind the planned crime. A car driven by the two suspects is alleged to have contained a Samurai sword, knives, a body bag and a piece of paper with the words "find a river and dump her in".
But, bungled murder plots and incongruous accents aside, Stone's career hasn't offered much in recent years. After selling lorryloads of her retro soul-influenced debut and follow-up, her 2007 album Introducing Joss Stone performed poorly by comparison and 2009's Colour Me Free! sneaked out almost unnoticed in her battle with the beleaguered music giant EMI to be released from her contract.
The first output from her newly established Stone'd Records imprint (hence the title LP1), it's claimed that this album, recorded in Nashville in a six-day burst of activity, is the first on which Stone had complete artistic and creative freedom. Co-written and co-produced by the Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart, it sees the singer lending her lioness roar to a collection of country-tinged rock songs.
The opener, Newborn, wastes no time reminding the listener of the immense power of her voice. It begins by soaring over the track's vintage-sounding guitars and organs, but ends up almost knocking them flat. Karma kicks off with a blast of funk bass and Stone appearing to chastise a love rival - "you are what you are / you did what you did / and I saw what I saw". The track's explicit bitterness seems rather forced, however, and hardly compatible with her hippie-chick persona.
Things get a little more fun with the Aretha Franklin-inspired Don't Start Lying to Me Now, with Stone singing staccato lines and, thankfully, holding back on the power a little. But at the centre of the album is a trio of ballads dopey enough to persuade even an ardent fan to give up. From the ponderous Drive All Night, to the saccharine Cry Myself to Sleep, Stone never succeeds in backing up the power of her voice with any convincing emotional heft.
Things improve on the good-time soul rocker Somehow, its breezy chorus deservedly earning it a place as the album's first single. Some great lap-steel playing also helps to tether the power-ballad Boat Yard to the ground.
Thanks in no small part to Stewart and a team of incredible players, the album finally sees the singer fully dispensing with the ghastly pop production that afflicted her early releases. But there is still a tendency for Stone, famed for using her voice like an instrument, simply to sing far too much. While the greatest divas can be forgiven for this, Stone's attempt at pouring her heart into her music - like a false accent - simply isn't believable.