Reinventing a Pop Star

3 04 2007

By Derek Beres

Before Amy Winehouse catapulted into American consciousness as the next coming of Brit soul divas, Joss Stone dropped The Soul Sessions. It was 2003; she was 17. Like Winehouse, she had to deal with a cultural blunder: she is white. And like Winehouse, to fans of music, that doesn’t matter. This girl has lungs, and a heart. The ten songs on Soul were tributes to legends, albeit more obscure ones at that. (Even the Aretha Franklin track she covered is not among her most popular.)

As the industry demands, the ability of Stone’s own songwriting skills was put into question. Sure, the girl can belt out a few standards, but can she produce anything of equal merit? After 2004’s Mind, Body & Soul, most thought the answer simple: no. It wasn’t a bad record by any means, it just wasn’t that interesting. Some considered her a fluke at 18 years of age. What’s a girl to do? The obvious: dye your hair, change your image and get a pop producer.

Stone’s answer: red, body paint and a nose ring, and Raphael Saadiq. First off, Introducing Joss Stone is an excellent record. Again, like Winehouse, she took advantage of a sound somewhere between vintage and Hot 97. Basically, it sounds like what Motown artists would have done with ProTools. Her voice sounds much more upfront than the last outing, but more controlled than her debut. Common comes on and, for the most part, reproduces any Gap ad that he’s done recently; Lauryn Hill offers not much more than having her name on the booklet.

It’s understandable that Stone would see these names as a crutch. Truth is, she doesn’t need them. On the surface they may add some sort of visual appeal to eager consumers, but on a musical level it detracts. As does the image change. A woman is free to become what a woman chooses to become. This just seems forced. If it weren’t for the fact that the album was so damn good, I’d write her off as nosediving a la Nelly Furtado, choosing glitz and glam over honesty and songwriting. I’m hoping the extra make-up and loss of clothing are part of Stone’s quest to self-knowledge and creativity. She’s got a voice that can hold up for some time, if she doesn’t allow all the pretty things between here and there consume her.

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