Joss Stone

Introducing Joss Stone

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Typically, artists dispense with introductions after their debut -- after all, that is an album designed to introduce them to the world -- but neo-soul singer Joss Stone defiantly titled her third album Introducing Joss Stone, thereby dismissing her first two relatively acclaimed albums with one smooth stroke. She now claims that those records were made under record-label pressure -- neatly contradicting the party line that her debut, The Soul Sessions, turned into a retro-soul project after Joss implored her label to ditch the Christina Aguilera-styled urban-pop she was pursuing -- but now as a young adult of 19, she's free to pursue her muse in her own fashion. All this is back-story to Introducing, but Stone makes her modern metamorphosis plain on the album's very first track, where football-star-turned-Hollywood-muscle Vinnie Jones blathers on nonsensically about change ("I see change, I embody change, all we do is change, yeah, I know change, we're born to change" and so on and so forth), setting the stage for some surprise, which "Girl They Won't Believe It" kind of delivers, if only because it isn't all that different from what Stone has done before. It's a sprightly slice of Northern soul propelled by a bouncy Motown beat that doesn't suggest a change in direction as much as a slight shift in aesthetic. Gone are the seasoned studio pros, in are a bevy of big-name producers all united in a mission to make Stone seem a little less like a '60s blue-eyed soul diva and a little more her age, a little more like a modern girl in 2007. So, the professional in-the-pocket grooves have been replaced by drum loops, the warm burnished sound has been ditched in favor of crisp, bright sonics, Harlan Howard covers have been pushed aside for cameos by Common and Lauryn Hill. It's a cosmetic change that works, at least to a certain extent: Introducing does sound brighter, fresher than her other two albums, pitched partway between Amy Winehouse and Back to Basics Christina yet sounding very much like Texas at their prime, but it's all surface change -- beneath that shiny veneer, Stone suffers from the two things that have always plagued her: songs that don't quite stick and overly labored singing. Since Introducing is a production-heavy album, the lack of memorable tunes doesn't quite matter as much because this about sound, not songs, but the singing is a problem: it's at once too big and too small, as Stone pushes every phrase too hard but never winds up seeming like the larger-than-life figure she so clearly desires to be. That's the kind of persona that could sell music like this -- music that gets by on its stylized tweaking of classic conventions (as opposed to her previous album, which celebrated classic conventions without offering a structure to support them) -- but too often Stone comes across like a contestant on American Idol, a voice in search of the right sound and the right songs to truly make her into a star instead of being a star right out of the gate. Which means this introduction isn't all that different than her debut, since it still presents a promising vocalist instead of a vocalist who's fulfilled her promise.

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