Colour Me Free! •••½
“I kind of woke up one morning and wanted to make an album,” says Joss Stone of her fourth studio recording, the way most of us would likely speak of toast. Not that the Kentish-born R&B diva is already becoming cavalier, though with a $6 million fortune and having appeared on stage with the likes of James Brown, Gladys Knight and Tom Jones by the tender age of 23, she could probably be forgiven for taking her talent a mite for granted; on the contrary, Stone wishes to point out that this collection of songs is simply “very, very raw”. One can only assume that sushi must be in the eye of the beholder, since this record strikes a near-perfect balance of earthy soul and pop-production, sounding like a heady cocktail of two parts pristine recording studio and one part local guitar shop on a hungover Saturday morning. Basslines flex and pulsate with a regularity and precision that would make Epicurus himself reconsider his line on predestination, while whiskey-drenched bluesy guitar noodlings sprawl where they will, like spaghetti on a waterbed.
Colour Me Free! sees Stone inviting an array of musical collaborators to share the studio, from American household names such as Nas through to comparatively lesser-known UK talent in one Jamie Hartman, and it’s a range which only goes to show that there’s a healthy number of strings to her own formidable bow. Each collaboration sees Stone effortlessly modulating her voice to suit the mood of the song (or ‘jam’ if we are to accept her modest terminology), from the good-natured soul gambolling of ‘Big Ol’ Game’ featuring Raphael Saadiq, to the full-throttle funk wailings of ‘Parallel Lines’ featuring Jeff Beck and Purple Rain-era Prince protégé Sheila E.
Stone unquestionably steps furthest outside of her soul/R&B comfort zone on ‘Stalemate’, the track recorded with Jamie Hartman, and which Hartman also recorded with Anastasia to less striking effect. One of the highlights of the album, this is a track which was practically written to be used as the soundtrack to YouTube montages of the emotional bits from ‘House’; it’s highly saccharine but charged with real feeling, like breaking up via the medium of Sunny D. Stone’s soaring vocals and soul-style ad libbing lend the song a depth of feeling, while the pop-ballad melody and straighter rhythym cast the rest of Stone’s album into a flattering relief, proving her wide appeal and hopefully damping the accusations of one-trick American R&B ponyism.
That said, this isn’t an album which does anything but revel in its influences, and American soul and R&B do take the central float in the celebrations; unsurprising, given that Stone’s upbringing was steeped in the likes of Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. We hear a beautifully filtered Lauryn Hill in the plinky piano-led ‘Could Have Been You’, and in ‘Free Me’, the kind of homage which interests lawyers is paid to Jean Knight. Stone’s unapologetic appropriation of her funk-soul forebears is nowhere clearer than in the rifacimento of the soul staple ‘You Got The Love’, a track recently assailed by formidable indie whirlwind Florence + The Machine, but which Stone reclaims in the name of soul. Indeed, she does such a good job of engaging with and emulating her American predecessors that the British ‘-ou’ spelling in ‘Colour Me Free!’ begins to take on a quasi-ironic significance. But the vocal dexterity and melodic sensibility which saturate this record proves that, ultimately, hers is talent which extends far beyond the confines of red, white and blue.
UK release date: 02/11/09; www.myspace.com/jossstone
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