No introduction needed

May 25, 2007


"Nothing in this world got me like you do, baby/I'd give up my soul/If I couldn't sing with you daily," 20-year-old British singer Joss Stone croons over a slinky, sultry and soulful groove midway through her latest album. "I'm not the only girl/In love with you, it's crazy/I appreciate your groove/Now I know I owe everything to you."

At first, the listener might think the tune is yet another R&B song expressing boundless love, rampant lust and unbridled devotion. But in the choruses, Stone reveals the true object of her passionate affections: "I'm so in love with my music/The way you keep me movin'/Ain't nobody doing what you're doing."

Many of the often harsh reviews of "Introducing Joss Stone" have focused on the singer's new, sexier image, as seen most dramatically in the CD's artwork. "There comes a time when a young diva wants to break free of her handlers and declare herself a career-controlling woman. So Joss Stone did what any girl who wants respect as an auteur would do: She stripped naked, got slathered with psychedelic body paint and straddled her producer [Raphael Saadiq] for the liner art to her new CD," Sia Michel wrote in the New York Times.

But reviews of Stone's recent concerts note that she's still the same gangly, awkward, West County hippie-chick, tossing her long hair to mask her admitted stage fright and twirling barefoot as she evokes her musical heroines: Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin. And Stone maintains that the misleading title of her third album refers not to her new PG-13 photo sessions, but to a truer representation of her ideal sound.

"People get confused by it, understandably," Stone said of the album title in an interview with Billboard. "They're like, 'Hang on, were we hearing, like, a fake Joss before?' And I'm like, 'No, no, no ... You just weren't hearing my vision. It was somebody else's vision that I just happened to be singing on.' So when I say, 'Introducing Joss Stone,' it's like, 'Finally, now they've given me the chance to actually create a piece of art, to create an album that has a start, a middle and a finish.'"

Born Joscelyn Eve Stoker in Dover, Kent, Stone was only 16 when she emerged on the pop scene, positioned as an unlikely R&B alternative to bubblegum dance-pop queens such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, or a more tweener-friendly version of neosoul artists such as Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill. She made her recorded debut with a set of mostly old-school covers, "The Soul Sessions" (2003); won the attentions of MTV with her funky version of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Boy," and scored a second platinum hit with "Mind, Body & Soul" (2004).

But Stone was eager to show she's capable of more than a popped-up take on vintage soul or a slightly grittier version of chart-topping R&B sounds "... I'll admit it -- I'm a bit of a music snob," she told the Philadelphia Daily News. "My mission is to bring back some real music, with real values, real emotions, real players."

To that end, the singer is following the recent lead of Justin Timberlake, touring with a kicking 11-piece band complete with a horn section and a trio of backing vocalists, and she wrote some 60 songs for her third disc, ultimately recording 20 of them with Saadiq, the former leader of Tony! Toni! Tone!, at a studio in the Bahamas and Electric Lady in Manhattan.

"Introducing Joss Stone" isn't an unqualified success: Stone is heavy-handed in underscoring her worship of old-school sounds when she quotes Aretha and samples Otis Redding in "Headturner," and she hasn't learned how to control her big, brassy voice enough to invest a quiet-storm barn-burner such as "What Were We Thinking" with the necessary subtlety.

Yet in the heartfelt "Music" and on jauntier numbers such as the Jackson 5-influenced "Baby Baby Baby" and "Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now" -- which mixes Southern gospel, soul and hip-hop and features another notable cameo from Chicago rapper and fellow Gap model Common -- Stone proves herself deserving of slot in the top tier of today's best neosoul/natural R&B divas, and she's a heck of a lot more believable, appealing and talented than many dance-pop climbers or another, much more lauded chart-topping British bad girl, Amy Winehouse.

Northwestern's got the beat in 'Monster' show

They may be the butt of endless jokes -- "What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted"; "What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer," etc., etc., ad infinitum -- but those of you who are wannabe percussionists or who just can't get enough rhythm in your lives should definitely catch Northwestern University's Monster Percussion Concert at Millennium Park on Sunday.

The lineup will feature 35 members of Northwestern's School of Music faculty and students performing pieces ranging from marimba virtuoso Clair Musser's 1933 composition "Century of Progress, Chicago World's Fair" to rhythmically intensive compositions by Tchaikovsky and Xenakis. Also taking part: Grammy-winning jazz-fusion drummer Paul Wertico, best known for his work with the Pat Metheny Group; Polish marimba virtuoso Marta Klimasara, and the Northwestern University Percussion Ensemble and Marching Band Drumline.

The free concert starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion just east of Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe, and clapping is encouraged -- so long as it's in time.

For more information, visit

  • 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
  • House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
  • Tickets, $36
  • (312) 923-2000