It was in 2003 that teenage British lass Joss Stone released “The Soul Sessions,” a collection of primarily obscure ’60 and ‘70s R&B covers delivered with an almost preternatural maturity and vocal prowess.
Nine years later, Stone is all grown up and it shows on “The Soul Sessions Volume 2,” out July 31 on Stone’d/S Curve Recordings.
Often such sequels are bad ideas and feel like a calculated way to try to recapture the unplanned magic that made the first effort soar. However, this time Stone has done the near impossible: she has caught lightning in a bottle twice.
Her remarkably lush, throaty vocals seems even stronger, but more importantly, the 25-year-old Stone has sufficient living and heartache under her belt to bring the needed bite to songs like The Honey Cone’s “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar.” And there’s certainly no way a 16-year old should have been singing a cover of Sylvia’s breathy “Pillow Talk.”
Recorded primarily in Nashville and produced by S-Curve chief Steve Greenberg, who helmed “Soul Sessions” with Betty Wright, “SS2” features such soul stalwarts as Ernie Isley, Delbert McClinton and Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section pianist/keyboardist Clayton Ivey. They ground Stone in a sense of time and place and authenticity in a way that more modern players likely could not (although a special nod has to go to Raymond Angry, best known for his work with Christina Aguilera and the Roots, whose B3 work here drenches the album in his own delectable brand of soul honey). It’s possible to feel transported back to another era as she sears through tunes like Eddie Floyd’s “I Don’t Wanna Be With Nobody But You.”
Just as she included The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Boy” on “Soul Sessions,” Stone expands the definition of soul here to include a striking cover of The Broken Bells’ “The High Road.” While she remains faithful to most of the soul originals, she upends “The High Road,” infusing it with a sultriness totally non-existent in the Broken Bells’ version, and discarding some of the song’s mournfulness.
Stone proves adept on all numbers here, but she’s at her best when she’s belting with a purpose. A revamp of soul and country classic “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” with just acoustic guitar and strings, shows off her softer side, but it’s the sassy, take-no-prisoners Stone that will keep listeners interested, such as on the spritely, vengeful “First Taste Of Hurt” (one of four extra songs on the expanded deluxe version) or the funked out “Stoned Out Of My Mind.”
As much depth as she’s able to infuse these songs with now, it would be incredible to have Stone record a new edition of “The Soul Sessions” every decade. In about 20 years, when life has kicked her around a bit more as it does all of us, Stone should really be able to give them some heft. In the meantime, “The Soul Sessions Vol. 2” will have to suffice and it does so masterfully.