Born in Kent in April 1987 but raised largely in the Devon countryside, Joss Stone was a child prodigy who cut her teeth on talent shows singing R&B and soul standards by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. The Boilerhouse Boys (Andy Dean and Ben Wolfe) discovered Stone at a charity show and instantly recognised an extraordinary talent, declaring she was the greatest voice they'd heard from this country. After signing to them Joss flew to America and impressed S-Curve Records when she floored the executives with startling versions of Otis Redding's '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay' and Gladys Knight's 'Midnight Train to Georgia'. She was given the cachet of recording with American players in Miami and Philadelphia and found herself learning from such greats as Betty Wright, Benny Latimore and Little Beaver as well more contemporary acts Angie Stone and The Roots. The resulting album, The Soul Sessions, was a sensation. As word spread back to Britain, abetted by key TV appearances, the disc flew into the UK Top 5, made a large dent in America and spawned the hit 'Fell In Love With A Boy' (a clever reworking of The White Stripes' 'Fell In Love With A Girl'), followed by the funky 'Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin' On Me)'. 18 months later the album went triple platinum in the UK and would go Gold in America. Not bad for a teenager raised in a sleepy village.
The maturity and depth of her voice enticed those who came within its orbit. She showed emotion but not flash, and combined pop and soul without straying into overblown diva territory. The debut was a broad affair too since it opened with a Harlan Howard song made famous by Waylon Jennings in 1967 – 'The Chokin' Kind' – and included covers of John Sebastian's 'I had A Dream' and The Isley Brothers R&B work out 'For The Love Of You, Pts 1 & 2'. That is eclecticism.
Joss was happier still with Mind Body & Soul since she insisted on sharing the writing and ensured the new tracks had a more hip-hop vibe. Recorded again in New York, New Jersey and the Hit Factory in Miami, this disc really made sense of Stone and enabled her to be viewed not just as a young phenomenon but also as a bona fide artist who wasn't a gimmick, a flash in the pan or the product of the music business. She was definitely her own woman. The triple platinum accolades in the UK were now matched by Platinum in America and the albums sales indicated it was indeed the soundtrack to winter 2004.
It is available in original and Special editions with the latter including a cracking version of The Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' and the Elton John duet, 'Calling It Christmas'. Proving she was more authentic than groomed, as certain detractors felt, Stone raises her game on this album. Highlights include showstoppers – 'Right to be Wrong', 'You Had Me' and 'Spoiled', all cuts that underpinned a remarkable live presence.
From here on Stone's work shows ever-increasing finesse. Her third disc, Introducing Joss Stone (2007) allowed her the time to stretch out and explore new worlds. Teaming her with producer Raphael Saadiq was a masterstroke since he encouraged collaborations with Common ('Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now'), Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean ('Music') and the song writing Midas, Diane Warren ('Bruised But Not Broken'). Not just covering the bases now from pop to slinky R&B but also winning a reputation as a major player Stone added mainland Europe to her fan base, embarked on back-to-back US tours and hit every urban market imaginable with stellar results.
Still only 22 and with the world at her feet Joss took stock for her fourth album, Colour Me Free. Returning to Devon she recorded her demos at her mother's studio, Mama Stone's and opted for a slight return to the older school soul of her teenage years. The album remains a quiet triumph and includes the stand out anthems 'You Got The Love' and 'I Believe To My Soul' as well as a collaboration with Jeff Beck and Sheila E on 'Parallel Lines', which has an immaculate groove and a smart rock snap. Newly liberated perhaps, hence the title track vamp of 'Free Me', Joss emerges here as a sassy, soulful siren who can embrace technology whilst keeping an eye on the important heartbeat of the song.
The smoky voiced chanteuse stepped sideways to record LP1 as an independent venture and our story resumes with the definitive The Best Of Joss Stone 2003-2009. A sublime package that hits on all the highlights as well as a few choice cuts that might have snuck under the radar like 'Super Duper Love' and 'Spoiled', this is more than a convenient package since it acts as the perfect introduction for newer listeners who know the name but missed out on that initial frenzy. As an example of technique married to soul delivery it's a very fine thing indeed.
In the summer of 2011 Stone became a member of a musical project entitled SuperHeavy, which was formed by Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics, Damian Marley (the youngest son of Bob Marley) and the Indian musician and producer A.R. Rahman. The album - SuperHeavy - came out in September 2011 on A&M Records and featured the debut single, 'Miracle Worker'. In July 2012, The Soul Sessions Vol 2 saw Stone return to her original producer, Steve Greenberg (he worked on the original Soul Sessions). The album features some classic deep soul cuts including the Dells' 'The Love We Had – Stays on My Mind', Womack & Womack's 'Teardops' and The Broken Bells' 'The High Road' featuring Ernie Isley's soul funk guitar.
The girl who grew up grooving to Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin has herself come of age. She is a major artist in her own right.
Words: Max Bell
Q: She's 16 and British, what can she possibly know about singing vintage American soul music?
A: Enough to make you squirm, get off your ass, and dance close with anybody who'll have you.
Joss Stone is a young woman who, if you believe the story, was about to record her wannabe pop smash debut and then be well on her way to becoming the next Britney/Christina. Then she heard some vintage American Miami soul made by the likes of Latimore, Little Beaver, Betty Wright, Timmy Thomas, and the like, and genuine inspiration took hold. The result of all this career changing (or diva postponement) is The Soul Sessions, a collection of ten badass soul classics recorded with all of the above folks - soul princess Betty Wright and S-Curve's Steve Greenberg produced almost all of it in Miami, though a pair of tracks were recorded in New York with R&B wunderkind Mike Mangini and a souled-out cover of the White Stripes "Fell in Love With a Boy," guided by the Roots' Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) on the modern tip, was cut in Philly. These jams drip honey sweet and hard with tough, sexy soul, and Stone's voice is larger than life. It's true she's been tutored and mentored by Wright and her musical collaborators in the science of groove, but she keeps it raw enough to be real. Her reading of Harlan Howard's "The Chokin' Kind" reveals that it should have been an R&B tune all along - check out Little Beaver's (Willie Hale) guitar solo. Her reading of Bobby Miller's "Dirty Man," a track associated with Wright, is gutsy and completely believable, and the interplay between Latimore's piano and Beaver's funky, shimmering guitaristry brings Stone's vocal down to street level.
For a woman as young as Stone to tackle Carla Thomas' "I've Fallen in Love With You" and Aretha Franklin's "All the King's Horses," not to mention John Ellison's nugget "Some Kind of Wonderful," takes guts, chops, or a genuine delusional personality to pull off. Stone has the former two. She has unique phrasing and a huge voice that accents, dips, and slips, never overworking a song or trying to bring attention to itself via hollow acrobatics. The strings and funky backbeat provided by Thompson on "I've Fallen in Love With You" are chilling in the way they prod Stone to just spill a need out of her heart that one would believe would be beyond her years. And speaking of Thompson, his production of the Stripes tune is more than remarkable; it conveys Jack White's intent but in an entirely new language. The set closes with Stone's radical reread of the Isleys' "For the Love of You," a daunting and audacious task. The way she tackles this song, prodded only by Angelo Morris' keyboard whispering alongside her, is far from reverential, but it is true, accurate, moving, and stunningly - even heartbreakingly - beautiful. This is a debut that, along with those fine practitioners in the nu-soul underground such as Peven Everett, Julie Dexter, Yas-rah, Fertile Ground, and a few others, is solid proof that soul is alive and well. And perhaps, given her youth and stunning looks, the perverse star-making machinery will use this unusual entry into the marketplace to reinvestigate the wonders of timeless depth and vision inherent in soul and R&B that are far from exhausted, as this record so convincingly proves.
Words: Thom Jurek
On the cover of her debut, The Soul Sessions, Joss Stone's face is obscured by a vintage microphone, a deliberate move that emphasized the retro-soul vibe of the LP while hiding the youthful face that would have given away that Stone was a mere 16 years old at the time of the album's release. The point was to put the music before the image and it worked, selling the album to an older audience that might have stayed away, thinking that the teenager sang teen pop. If the debut was designed to give Stone credibility, her second album, Mind, Body & Soul, delivered almost exactly a year after its predecessor, is designed to make her a superstar, broadening her appeal without losing sight of the smooth, funky, stylish soul at the core of her sound. There's no radical revision here - she still works with many of the same musicians she did on The Soul Sessions, including Betty Wright and Little Beaver - but there are some subtle shifts in tone scattered throughout the record. Certain songs are a little brighter and a little more radio-ready than before, there's a more pronounced hip-hop vibe to some beats, and she sounds a little more like a diva this time around - not enough to alienate older fans, but enough to win some new ones. The album has a seductive, sultry feel; there's some genuine grit to the rhythms, yet it's all wrapped up in a production that's smooth as silk. By and large, the songs are good, too, sturdily written and hooky, growing in stature with each play. While Stone has developed a tendency to over-sing ever so slightly - she doesn't grandstand like the post-Mariah divas, but she'll fit more notes than necessary into the simplest phrases - she nevertheless possesses a rich, resonant voice that's a joy to hear. She may not yet have the set of skills, or the experience, to give a nuanced, textured performance - one that feels truly lived-in, not just sung - but she's a compelling singer and Mind, Body & Soul lives up to her promise.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Every one of her 12 singles for the label is here, with the Jamie Hartman duet “Stalemate” - originally released on Ben’s Brother’s 2009 album - added as a concluding track. If this doesn’t dig deep, it nevertheless hits all the highlights - her White Stripes cover “Fell in Love with a Boy,” her Top Ten U.K. hit “You Had Me,” “Don’t Cha Wanna Ride,” her only charting U.S. single “Tell Me 'Bout It,” the Common duet “Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now” - drawing a picture of the decade when Stone was always on the cusp of stardom yet never quite truly there. As introductions go, it’s a solid one, capturing her potential and promise, alternating between singles frustrating and fun.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The one lingering element of Introducing is a propensity for melisma-laden oversinging, a tic that stands out greatly in the warmer, funkier settings of Colour Me Free!, helping Joss seem somewhat disconnected from the emotional thrust of her music. Still, her raw vocal skills remain impressive, as does her taste in soul, and even if this feels off-kilter, not quite achieving a balance between retro and modernity, it does beat with a messy human heart, one that was subdued on Introducing...
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
All supergroups contain a member or two whose stardom outshines the rest and so it is with SuperHeavy, a motley amalgamation fronted by Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, and Damian Marley and also featuring Eurythmic Dave Stewart and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman. Unquestionably Jagger’s star shines brightest but he’s not the center of this universe, nor is Stone, the only member who has been a constant presence in international pop charts over the past decade. No, the creative director here is Dave Stewart, who was suddenly seized by the possibilities of a pancultural purported pop, enthused to his friend Jagger and brought him on board, then filled out the group with totems of different cultures: Marley representing Jamaica, Rahman Bollywood, Stone the new breed. Mad scientist that he is, Stewart takes pains to balance each voice because “Common Ground” is kind of the point of this venture - sounds from every corner of the world converge to create music intended to speak to every corner of the world.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine