The concept of Joss Stone's seventh studio release began to take shape following the formation of SuperHeavy, the multicultural, cross-generational group that released an awkward if free-spirited album in 2011, just before The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 materialized. Among Stone's bandmates was Damian Marley, who implored the singer to cut a reggae album. Stone was hesitant at first but conceded, perhaps realizing that a drastic switch in her vocal approach would not be required. (She wouldn't even have to avoid using the word "soul" in the album's title.) More importantly, Marley wasn't fooling. He followed through and co-produced this with Stone. The duo devised a set of songs that often uses reggae as a foundation but incorporates a familiar mix of soul, rock, and roots music with light accents from tablas, Irish fiddles, and flamenco guitar. Even when the album deviates most from the singer's previous releases -- specifically in "Way Oh," during its chorus and forced-sounding references to a "buffalo soldier," likely a nod to Marley's father -- Water for Your Soul always sounds like Joss Stone. Her voice remains in debt to classic soul as much as ever. Additionally, she continues to switch from emotion to emotion with full-bore conviction. From one song to another, there are some extreme swings in sentiment. In "Let Me Breathe," she begs for release from a stifling relationship she cannot resist. She follows it with the exasperated "Cut the Line" -- fluid and dubwise, the album's song with the most surface appeal -- where "I can't get over how you're shutting me out" is delivered with the same amount of "help me out here" force. While one can always sense the pain and joy in the mere sound of Stone's voice, some of the songs' lines provoke head scratching rather than knowing nods. Through deep, repeated listening, the album increasingly resembles ragtag emoting. Heard passively, it's all pleasant summertime listening.
Water for Your Soul Review
by Andy Kellman