It would be natural to talk about how much Joss Stone's voice has matured since her 2003 debut, "The Soul Sessions," except that this teenager has always had the seasoned, lived-in pipes of a singer decades older.
A 16-year-old blonde from rural England with a voice marinated in classic Stax soul might have seemed like a gimmick. And with "The Soul Sessions," primarily a collection of obscure R&B songs, such as Joe Simon's "The Chokin' Kind," some gently dismissed Stone as a vocalist with enough of an ear to mimic soulfulness, but without the emotional ability to plumb the rich truths within the songs.
Of course, such sniping completely missed a very vi- tal point -- regardless of age or upbringing, Stone has a smashing voice, resonant with passion, power, and sass. That's even more apparent with her new album, "Mind, Body & Soul," due in stores today. Freed from the dusty grooves of her debut's old soul records, Stone gets to show off more of her own, still-developing, musical personality, as well as display her deepening confidence and grace as a singer.Go to www.boston.com/ae/music to hear clips from "Mind, Body & Soul." Stone co-wrote most of this album's tracks, and reassembles many of her debut's R&B stalwarts, including her mentor, singer-songwriter Betty Wright, guitarist Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, organist Timmy Thomas, and pianist Benny Lattimore. On various tracks she also gets assistance from Nile Rodgers (guitar on "You Had Me,") and ?uestlove (drums on "Sleep Like a Child.") Stone is the sparkling centerpiece, and it's her voice that propels this album through its 14 tracks.
"You Had Me," the album's bouncy first single, seems an attempt to allow Stone to act her age. That's not to say that the song, about a woman who dumps a no-good man, is some fizzy pop confection. Yet it moves away from the more archetypal soul sound that has marked Stone's nascent career, while not fiddling around too much with her distinct style.
Still, it can't top a song like "Spoiled," a luscious slow jam, co-written by Motown legend Lamont Dozier. Along with such tracks as "Right to Be Wrong," the album's opener, and "Jet Lag," "Spoiled" proves Stone's talents have ripened without sacrificing her refreshing ingenuousness. She achieves richness of sound without coming across forced, a minor fault that crept up at times on her debut. And for such a young singer with a dazzling voice, she exercises great restraint and control. As a songwriter, Stone is still a little raw -- on "Understand," she cites having a favorite love song on repeat on her iPod as a sign of devotion. Then again, she is just 17, and her songs at times capture the inarticulate heat and heartbreak of a first love.
The final two tracks, "Killing Time," co-written with Beth Gibbons of Portishead, and "Sleep Like a Child," are gems. Especially on the latter song, Stone's delivery is so gorgeous and elegant, there's little doubt this is a singer who'll be around well into the next decade, perhaps beyond. With a sound as easy as Sunday morning, "Mind, Body & Soul" is one of the year's best albums, as Stone again proves she has talent to burn and soul to spare.
Renee Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org