Joss Stone is back on form now, after a rough period blighted by cons, contracts and hair colour, writes James McNair.
Joss Stone's sequel to Soul Sessions equals it in every way
The Soul Sessions Vol 2
Stone'd / S-Curve
The world loves a precocious talent, and by 15, Joss Stone already sang like a bona-fide diva. Whisked off to the US to record a debut album overseen by S-Curve Records' Steve Greenberg and the veteran soul giant Betty Wright, among others, the girl born Jocelyn Eve Stoker in Kent, England, emerged with 2003's The Soul Sessions, a gloriously authentic-sounding collection of 1960s and 1970s covers reflecting her love of Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack.
The album shifted more than five million copies - which could have been a hard act for her to follow but Stone went on to score a UK number one and US number 11 with 2004's hip-hop imbued follow-up Mind, Body & Soul. In time, however, she found herself subject to the kind of control-freakery that record companies sometimes exert when their golden goose honks back. When Stone bought out of her deal with EMI in 2009, she reportedly spent a large chunk of her personal fortune with the command of her own career the imperative, whatever the cost. "They want you to sing what you're told and my hair colour was an issue for a while," she recently told the BBC when quizzed on the matter. "Now I feel free."
Stone here returns to Plan A, and you can't help wondering why she didn't get to Vol 2 of The Soul Sessions sooner. Teamed with such simpatico musicians as The Isley Brothers' Ernie Isley (guitar) and the keyboardist Clinton Ivey (Wilson Pickett, Diana Ross, etc), she dazzles on cover versions of the Honey Cone's While You're Out Looking for Sugar and Eddie Floyd's I Don't Want to be With Nobody But You. The singer's gravelly-yet-dulcet voice has lost none of its power, and at the ripe old age of 25, Stone - the founder of her own record label and the target of a recent murder plot foiled by police near her home in Devon, England - now sounds as though she's lived a bit. It's crazy, really, to think that she's still five years younger than Beyoncé and just one year older than Adele.
Blaxploitation guitars, funky clavinet and acid-jazz flute all figure on a lithe, Issac Hayes-like arrangement of Linda Lewis's Sideway Shuffle, and there's sweet soul organ galore on Womack & Womack's Teardrops and Stone's warming version of Sylvia Robinson and Michael Burton's Pillow Talk. This is tasteful, beautifully-framed soul music. Stone sounds completely at home and at the top of her game. EMI must be kicking themselves.