Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Joss Stone: Soulsational Stone

Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni)
Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni) Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni)

This month sees Devon, UK-based Grammy and BRIT Award-winning Joss Stone returning to the forefront with the release of her sixth studio album âThe Soul Sessions: Vol IIâ. Which - consisting of her covering numerous largely-obscure soul songs from the Sixties and Seventies - in turn marks the follow-up to her five-million-selling 2003 debut LP âThe Soul Sessionsâ.

Interestingly, as a co-release between Jossâ own Stoneâd Records and (producer of both âSoul Sessionsâ albums) Steve Greenbergâs S-Curve Records (and licensed in the UK through Warner Music), âThe Soul Sessions: Vol IIâ represents the result of two live recording sessions in New York and Nashville - boasting a stellar cast of musicians including legendary funk/rock guitarist Ernie Isley and the woman who acted as Stoneâs mentor for the first âSoul Sessionsâ set, Seventies Miami soul Queen Betty Wright.

Indeed, having been described as âa collection of soul gems that showcase a young woman at the height of her vocal powerâ, standout tracks from the new album include Jossâ punchy update of female trio The Honey Coneâs 1969 US R&B hit âWhen Youâre Out Looking For Sugarâ (the first single); an intensely brooding makeover of Broken Bellsâ cult hit âThe High Roadâ; an aggressive, stomping cover of The Chi-Litesâ 1971 protest-funk anthem â(For Godâs Sake) Give More Power To The Peopleâ; a string-laden, sultry reading of UK singer/songwriter Labi Siffreâs âI Feel The Bluesâ; plus an achingly-impassioned rendition of The Dellsâ deep soul ballad âThe Love I Had (Stays On My Mind)â.

Born Jocelyn Eve Stoker in Dover, Kent in April 1987, Jossâ early love of female singers like Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield would ultimately lead to her, by the time sheâd moved to rural Devon in her teens, developing a soulful style of singing that would eventually conquer the world via her aforementioned, critically-acclaimed 2003 debut LP âThe Soul Sessionsâ. Which - finding her collaborating with icons of the Seventies Miami soul scene like the aforementioned Betty Wright, Latimore, Timmy Thomas and Little Beaver on a collection of mostly little-known Sixties soul covers - would go on to attain triple-Platinum sales in the UK and Gold in the US . In turn paving the way for her biggest-selling album to date - the 2004-released British-chart-topping âMind Body & Soulâ. Which, in addition to achieving triple-Platinum success in the UK, also hit Platinum sales Stateside.

Nevertheless, it was after hooking up with California-based contemporary soul producer Raphael Saadiq that Joss would first hit the US Top Ten, with her 2007-released set âIntroducing Joss Stoneâ hitting an impressive Number Two while simultaneously becoming her first album not to reach the British Top 10 - seemingly following a UK media backlash that criticised her for adapting a âfake America accentâ. Since which time her ensuing albums - 2009âs âColour Me Free!â and 2011âs âLP1â - have both hit the Top 10 Stateside, with the latter marking Jossâ first release through her own label Stoneâd Records after leaving EMI Records in August 2010 following a protracted and much-publicised legal battle.

Other prominent activities in recent years, meanwhile, have included Joss enjoying an occasional career in acting - prestigiously making her television debut portraying Henry VIIIâs fourth wife Anne of Cleaves in 2009 and 2010 for Showtimeâs series âThe Tudorsâ. While, on a considerably darker note, Stone hit the headlines in June 2011 for reasons outside of her career when police shockingly arrested two men near her home in Mid-Devon for plotting to rob and murder her. Nevertheless, later the same year saw her back in the press for the right reasons by releasing an album as one-fifth of the supergroup SuperHeavy alongside Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, Damian Marley (youngest son of Bob Marley) and Indian musician/producer A.R. Rahman.

All of which pretty much bring us up-to-date, as a decidedly-upbeat and ever-outspoken 25-year-old Joss (whose global album sales of 11 million have unquestionably made her one of the best-selling soul artists of this century, not to mention the fifth-richest British musician under 30!) reacquaints herself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis. As she enthusiastically discusses - in well-spoken English tones from her Devon home - her much-anticipated new album and her well laid plans for her own Stoneâd Records label amongst plenty of other things...

What Joss feels are the main differences between âThe Soul Sessions: Volume 2â and the first, 2003-released âSoul Sessionsâ

âThe first âSoul Sessionsâ was done when I was 15 years old, a long time ago. And, though I wouldnât say that today I know what Iâm doing COMPLETELY, I obviously do know more now than I did THEN! Because back then I was a little girl and, while itâs not that I didnât know how to SING, the fact is I just didnât know anything about MUSIC! I didnât know anything about how a song is put together, how to produce⦠I was kind of just following everyone else and LEARNING. You know, I was basically the student of all those people in the ROOM, especially Betty Wright. Whereas today, while everyone - including me - always has MORE to learn, I do feel Iâve learnt enough to kind of do it my MYSELF now. Which is why I like to choose the people I work with and choose the songs I SING, rather than be TOLD which songs to sing⦠So yeah, in terms of comparing the two records, the fact is that there is a huge, huge difference in the PROCESS involved. Because today I have my own way of creating music with musicians, and itâs nothing like the way the FIRST âSoul Sessionsâ was made.â

The selection process involved in choosing which songs to cover for âThe Soul Sessions: Vol IIâ

âWell, Steve Greenberg (producer of both âSoul Sessionsâ sets) I guess you could say has this obsession with obscure old skool soul songs! Which to me, with him having once been a soul DJ, makes him the best A&R guy you can FIND!... So what happened this time is, he found loads of songs, we all listened to them... And then, rather than choosing them and committing to them there and then, I basically said âYou know what? Iâll take in 20 of these songs and then, when the band is ready to go and weâre all in the studio, Iâll just pick which ones Iâll do on the SPOTâ. Because thatâs the way I WORK! To me itâs all about kind of suck-it-and-see and in-the-moment, and ultimately just going with the FEELING. Thereâs really nothing specific about it. Instead Iâd be like âOK, the sun is shining outside. So letâs do âWhile Youâre Out Looking For SUGARâ!â

The new albumâs lead-off single - Jossâ punchy take on female soul trio The Honey Coneâs 1969 US R&B hit âWhile Youâre Out Looking For Sugarâ

âWhat I particularly like about it is that itâs got that upbeat, summery feel but at the same time the lyrics are not what the MUSIC sounds like! Which is something that always appeals to me for some reason. I mean, when you listen to it itâs actually a pretty sad song, where the girl is basically saying âHey, youâre CHEATING on me, you little shit!â. And I also like the fact sheâs saying it kinda NONCHALANTLY, like âYouâre an IDOT!â. You know, itâs really got some SASS about it, and itâs certainly not a song sung by a victim of a man! Sheâs basically just calling it what it IS. You know, âYouâre a KNOB! Youâre gonna lose something really GOOD here! What a SHAME!â.â

Jossâ aggressive tackling of The Chi-Litesâ 1971 protest-funk anthem â(For Godâs Sake) Give More Power To The Peopleâ

âYeah, that was a really tough one to do. Like the reason I was worried about my version of that particular song was because of the way Iâm screaming on it - and at the end of the day I donât wanna put people off or SCARE anyone! So, because of that, I did kinda play it to various people once Iâd recorded it. And while some were like âWOW! Thatâs fuckinâ AWESOME!â, others were like âOh, I prefer it when you sing SOFTâ⦠Which at the end of the day I guess just proved that everyone likes something DIFFERENT! But yeah, the thing that really attracted me to the song itself is that Iâm totally down with the LYRICS. I think theyâre brilliant, and I think theyâre TRUE. Because I do think everybody should stand up and everybody should be HEARD - and if the powers-that-be listened more to the people, then the world would be a lot happier PLACE!â

Her foray into deep soul balladry with her impassioned cover of The Dellsâ âThe Love We Had (Stays On My Mind)â

âYeah, thatâs basically a kind of traditional soul ballad. And for me that was a funny one to do. Because the original was actually a duet between two singers, where one guy sang very low and the other guy sang very freely and strong. So for my version I had to represent two different PEOPLE - which is actually a really cool and quite a fun thing to DO! And I also like how the lyric of that song kinda takes me to that place where, if youâre making a big decision in your life, sometimes you PENDULUM. Because Iâve been told I do pendulum a LOT - I go from âOh, it doesnât matter, itâs fine, donât worry about itâ to âOh, but itâs so sad, I canât TAKE itâ! You know, you kind of get a little bit schizo about things sometimes, and that song to me definitely ILLUSTRATES that!â

With âThe Soul Sessions: Vol IIâ being a co-release between Jossâ own Stoneâd Records and Steve Greenbergâs S-Curve Records, what she feels are the main benefits of now running her own label

âI think the biggest benefit for me of having my own label is that I can now do whatever I WANT. I can make whatever song I wanna make and put it out, and I donât have to ask anyoneâs permission to DO so. You know, I donât feel any PRESSURE anymore because Iâm my own BOSS. I havenât been given a lot of money by a record-label and then therefore feel I have to be ANSWERABLE to those people⦠So yeah, itâs the FREEDOM really that just sells it to me. The fact that I can be whatever artist I wanna be, and that it gives you the chance to be truthful in your music and to be honest with your fans by being who you ARE. Because I think if youâre being pushed into being someone else then the public are not receiving the TRUTH. Which is just STUPID.â

Jossâ long-term plans for Stoneâd Records

âWell, while I do have my own personal, selfish reasons for having my own label, I would also like to use it help other ARTISTS. Which is why Iâve put in place the right people with the right heart to do the JOB, instead of choosing the TRADITIONAL type of record-company people. You know, itâs like we donât want to be the standard, because the standard is SHIT and it doesnât WORK and it just UPSETS people and it makes the artist SAD. And if I ever did that to any one of MY artists Iâd just be so GUTTED with myself! I mean, when I was younger I was told left-right-and-centre âNo, no, no. Iâm sorry, we canât sign you. Because you sing SOUL music and youâre WHITE and youâre 14!â⦠You know, that was a bummer that lasted for a quite some TIME⦠Until Steve (Greenberg) came along and said âYou know what? I LIKE that sheâs different! In fact, I think itâs a really GOOD thing!â... So yeah, basically it just takes someone like Steve to come along and DO that - you know, take on the new THING! Which is what IâM now trying to do with MY first act, Yes Sir Boss. Because I think theyâre very different, thereâs nothing like them, and theyâre lovely PEOPLE. So hopefully - fingers crossed - everyone will get to hear their MUSIC! You know, thatâs my PLAN.â

What we can expect from her next album of all-new material

âSomething Iâve had in the pipeline for ages is a REGGAE record that Iâve been working on with a guy Iâve done tons of stuff with before called Jonathan Shorten. Mainly because I havenât made a record like that yet, plus Iâve been hanging out with Damian MARLEY a lot. You know I was like âOh, wouldnât it be fun to kind of do like a mish-mash of soul music and reggae?â - just because I LIKE it, really. I mean, to be honest Pete, what Iâve been doing for the last couple of years is really only doing things just because I LIKE it and not getting STRESSED about anything. I basically decided Iâm just going to make fun MUSIC. So, as I say, if I do happen to come out with a reggae record next donât be SHOCKED!â

You can read more of this fascinating interview with Joss Stone, including her thoughts on singing legend/mentor Betty Wright and what Joss cites as the highlights so far in her already illustrious career, in our printed edition out now - check below to order now.

The album âThe Soul Sessions: Vol IIâ and single âWhile Youâre Out Looking For Sugarâ are both released on July 23 through WB Records/S-Curve Records

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