The very title of Joe Cocker's Hymn for My Soul suggests that this, his 2007 studio album, is a gospel affair, or at least something inspired by faith – something that isn't true to the letter, yet there is something true about the spirit of this sentiment, for these are songs that serve as a tonic to Cocker's soul. He's pulled songs from several familiar sources – Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Bob Dylan – and found other newer songs that share a similar sentiment, offering reassuring thoughts in troubled times. While nobody could ever claim that this album – produced by Ethan Johns, son of Glyn – has any grit, it nevertheless is warmer than recent Cocker discs…
The "free" in the title to Joss Stone's fourth album apparently refers to the neo-soul singer breaking free from the shackles of her major label, EMI, who apparently have not let Joss be Joss. That this constricting argument happens to be the exact same story line Stone used for 2007's Introducing Joss Stone, the splashy diva power trip meant to unveil the "real" singer, is conveniently forgotten, as is the modern R&B of that makeover, with Joss returning to all the retro-soul of her first two records. 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, so perhaps she did need to break free.
LP1 marks the third successive album from Joss Stone where she’s attempting to hit the restart button on her career, to usher in a new beginning for the neo-soul diva or, better yet, find the right setting for her considerable gifts. This journey began with 2007’s splashy modern R&B set Introducing Joss Stone, a makeover she rebelled against on her major-label kiss-off Colour Me Free, and now that she’s truly independent, she’s aligned with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart for LP1, returning to the classicism of her earliest work. There is a difference. Stewart is naturally reluctant to present Stone in a strictly soul setting; R&B is the foundation, but he dabbles in tight funk, folk, blues, Euro-rock, and modernist pop, giving LP1 just enough elasticity so it breathes and just enough color so it doesn’t seem staid.
Preparation is overrated. Impulse is everything. Such was the rebellious wisdom that drove the sessions for Project Mama Earth's astonishing debut EP. In June 2017, five world-renowned musicians met in Devon England for a high-wire act unique in modern music. They had no songs. No chord charts. No game plan. No safety net. Nothing, in fact, but a plan to play and catch the sparks. Where a lesser band would have stumbled, the gauntlet was readily seized by the all-star Mama Earth lineup of Joss Stone (vocals), Nitin Sawhney (guitar), Jonathan Joseph (drums), Étienne M'Bappé (bass/guitar) and Jonathan Shorten (keyboards). "The possibility for catastrophe was huge," nods the drummer. "It could have completely tanked. But the minute everyone stood in the studio, before we even touched an instrument – I just knew."
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.
Hot on the heels of Amy Winehouse and Katie Melua, Joss Stone is the latest teenage sensation to be feted by the music industry. There's a massive buzz about Stone at the moment, with both Paul Weller and Lenny Kravitz offering to write songs for her, and soul legend Betty Wright producing this, her debut album. Joss Stone launched her career by singing soul standards so when it came time for a reboot she went back to the beginning, dusting off the old blueprint for The Soul Sessions and following it to a T, right down to replicating its title and giving a contemporary alt-rock hit a soul makeover. First time around, the intent was to prove that teenage Joss had soul bona fides, but in 2012 the purpose of The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 is to signal how she's done messing around with fleeting fashions and is getting back down to the real business.