Joss Stone’s ‘The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2’: Album Review

Christina Lee | July 31, 2012 5:30 am
Within the first 15 seconds of her 2003 debut The Soul Sessions, Joss Stone‘s voice unfurls. You can hear her lips close and part at the ends and starts of her first few verses. At 16, Stone tackled 10 covers — including Aretha Franklin‘s serene yet confident “All the King’s Horses” — with that wise-beyond-its-years voice of hers. Each note warbled and simmered. Key players of Miami’s ’60s and ’70s soul scene backed her in the album’s recording sessions. All Stone needed to do, really, was to sing.

Ten years later, on The Soul Sessions Vol. 2, out today () on S-Curve Records, Stone is inching closer to veteran status, with better understanding of the fraught and impassioned emotions that have inspired the songs she loves.

As with her debut, Vol. 2 has Stone leading a reliable backing band — which includes Ernie Isley and Betty Wright, who returns as a backing vocalist — through renditions of older songs, ranging from four to forty years old. The album’s lead US single is another savvy, cross-genre move, like the Questlove-produced “Fell In Love With A Boy” before it: This time, Stone delivers a robust, impassioned take on the first-ever Broken Bells single “The High Road.”

Joss Stone, “The High Road”

More importantly, Vol. 2 features relatively obscure soul music dug up and dusted off from vaults forgotten. For instance, the first version of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” recorded by Don Cherry, isn’t even on YouTube. In the original version of “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People,” the Chi-Lites traded grievances about poverty and misfortune like neighbors conversing. In her more boisterous version, Stone inhabits every voice that the Chicago quintet offered, whether indignant or discouraged.

Listen closely, too, to Vol. 2‘s more faithful renditions — the funkier take on Rabi Siffre‘s “I Got The…” or its blissful version on Womack & Womack‘s “Teardrops.” In the original “Pillow Talk,” Sylvia Robinson strings together cooing whispers, sucks in her breath sharply and sends moans bouncing like skipping rocks. In her version, Stone inhales deeply before her feathery notes catch air. She’s inhabiting Robinson’s gentler, silkier sensuality, a type that hasn’t been seen much in Stone’s career.

Vol. 2 is filled with reasons to lean in; these covers have already compelled listeners to seek out the original material. (“Joss Stone just did this song for her new album. She does it justice,” a YouTube commenter wrote about the Honey Cone‘s 1969 hit “While You’re Out Looking for Sugar.”) And when Stone isn’t presenting a completely fresh take on a song, she’s reintroducing herself. In Vol. 2 — excluding the iTunes bonus tracks, that is — Stone’s very last note is a sigh. She may have sung along to Aretha Franklin 10 years ago, but as Vol. 2 proves, Stone surely understands her better now.

The Best Song Wasn’t the Single: Well, “(For God’s Sake)” and “The High Road” were indeed solid. The infectious “While You’re Out Looking for Sugar” is a formidable followup, and powerhouse ballad “The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind),” originally sung by The Dells, could easily come after that.

Pops Like: The songs that she tackles in Vol. 2, either stylistically or spiritually.Time to dig through a crate or two.

Best Listened To: At a casual dinner party with friends, in the background.

Full Disclosure: To me, Stone is best when she’s focused, like Introducing Joss Stone, in which Raphael Saadiq seamlessly paired her soulful attributes with guest verses from Lauryn Hill and Common, or in the streamlined LP1, co-written and co-produced by Eurythmics founder David Stewart. Vol. 2 follows the lead of these efforts.

Idolator Rating: 3.5/5

Christina Lee

How does Volume 2 compare to The Soul Sessions? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.