A fine debut that proclaimed Stone’s arrival as an artist in her own right.
Daryl Easlea 2012-05-09
Black Diamond sounds as fresh and assured as it did in 1999 when Angie Stone’s rootsy, confessional style chimed perfectly with the burgeoning neo-soul movement.
Stone was in her late-30s when this album was released, having made her recording debut as part of the Sugar Hill rap trio The Sequence 20 years earlier. An in-demand session singer, she performed on works by Lenny Kravitz and Mantronix. By the mid-90s, she was singing with the group DeVox with Kravitz’s cousin Gerry DeVeaux, but had to receive proper recognition for her abilities.
Named after her teenage daughter Diamond Ti’ara, Black Diamond was Stone’s opportunity and she was definitely not going to squander it. As a result it leaves little to chance: meticulously produced, sequenced to perfection and delivered flawlessly. However, for all this virtuosity, it is no clinical exercise. Stone’s vocals shine through with considerable beauty: she swaggers with the best of them, yet offers genuine emotion and heartfelt sincerity.
Its tone is set by the intro, Freedom, with its layered, gospel-influenced vocals. The sunny, soulful lead single No More Rain (In This Cloud) features a sample of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) and originated from a phrase that Stone’s father used to say to her when she asked for money.
My Lovin’ Will Give You Something, co-written by onetime Scritti Politti guitarist David Gamson, is glossy urban funk, full of blustery beats and horn fills. Stone’s musical heritage is underlined with her version of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man.
The album makes the most of its cameos, without anyone stealing Stone’s limelight. Former paramour – and father to her son, Michael – D’Angelo contributes to Everyday; Lenny Kravitz guests on Green Grass Vapors. As a bonus track on the UK version, Stone delivers almost an identikit version of Kravitz’s hit Heaven Help, but this stripped-down, highly polished ballad shows just how expressive her voice is without resorting to the histrionics so favoured by similar singers of her generation.
Although its 2001 successor, Mahogany Soul – which featured more of her hip hop roots – was more accomplished, Black Diamond is a fine debut. It proclaimed, after years of struggle, Stone’s arrival as an artist in her own right.