Joss Stone LP1 Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Something approaching a return to form from the British soul singer.

Mike Diver 2011

Steadily rising Brit-soul teenager Dionne Bromfield – currently 15 years old – would be wise to study the career path of Joss Stone, who broke into the mainstream at the age of 16 with 2003’s The Soul Sessions. Study it, carefully, and then walk in the opposite direction for a few albums. For while Stone’s a multi-million-selling artist, her catalogue to date is a classic example of diminishing returns. Her second set, 2004’s Mind Body & Soul, diluted the singer’s natural grit for a mainstream-pleasing pop-soul sound to a chorus of general indifference, and 2007’s Introducing... couldn’t commercially compete with Amy Winehouse’s all-conquering Back to Black, released five months earlier, despite expert production from Raphael Saadiq. And the less said about her final disc for EMI, 2009’s ironically drab Colour Me Free!, the better.

LP1 represents something of a rebirth, though – like its title isn’t a clue – and is certainly a better collection than the pair immediately preceding it. Here, Stone has full control over what material makes the cut, and she’s undeniably in an upbeat mood as a result. Recorded in Nashville alongside Dave Stewart (the pair comprise two-fifths of weird-on-paper supergroup SuperHeavy, with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman), and reportedly completed in just six days, its rough-and-ready feel is several post-production miles away from the major label gloss layered onto to the singer’s mid-00s sets. There’s less purring here; instead, Stone adopts a one-take-style approach to her performances, channelling the old-school rock-and-soul swagger of Tina Turner, and the results – while mixed – are certainly a lot more engaging than the Auto-Tuned masses. The inconsistencies are actually fairly endearing, cracks allowing the human at the heart of these songs to be glimpsed.

The arrangements vary incredibly, too. Karma rides a slithering funk bassline, while the following Don’t Start Lying to Me Now could have been beamed in from Broadway, albeit via Music Row; Drive All Night is a late-night soul ballad with a rare understated vocal, and Somehow is a summery stomp-along that deserves better than its top-50-in-Luxembourg chart success. Inevitably, this produces a fairly incoherent single-sitting experience – and Stone’s pussy-cat-one-minute, lioness-the-next attitude can become tiring (what does this girl want, exactly?). But she’s one of this country’s most gifted singers, and when she shines the effect is positively blinding.

LP1 is no successor to The Soul Sessions. It’s too loose, too unkempt to promote its maker back up to pop’s uppermost leagues. Stone packs all the power you expect, but her control misfires enough for some of these tracks to never quite click as they might. Ultimately this is more of a feeler release than a comeback proper; a testing toe-in-the-water affair to ascertain what interest there is in this once-feted, soon-damned artist. Turns out there’s enough to warrant another, albeit more focused, turn from the Dover-born, Devon-based pop-rock-cum-funk-soul chameleon. As for Bromfield: if she can side-step the awkward third and awful fourth LPs and skip straight to the compelling-in-places fifth, she’ll be just fine.

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