Before Amy Winehouse made it cool for a “white girl” from the UK to sound like a black R&B singer, the 15-year old Joss Stone had already souled out The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl” while being produced by The Roots. She may have set the precedent and garnered the commercial success, but Stone’s artistic merit has always been plagued by a lack of consistency. Her first album The Soul Sessions fit Stone’s mature-beyond-her-years blues bravado; but a collection of covers really didn’t let Stone be her own person. The follow up Mind, Body & Soul was a good example of what happens when the record label sticks their hands too far into the punch bowl. It stands as a choppy mix of watered down R&B and radio-friendly pop. Introducing Joss Stone was billed as her first personal album and teamed her with neo-soul architect Raphael Saadiq. That resulted in a fair set of songs, yet still failed to live up to Stone’s potential or Saadiq’s star power.
Colour Me Free is the now 22-year-old Joss Stone’s much-delayed fourth album, and comes amid a bitter battle between the singer and her label EMI. The disagreement encompasses everything from master tapes, to musical direction, to the color of Joss’ hair. The true disservice here is that all the bickering trivializes what is undoubtedly Stone’s most consistent and satisfying album yet.
Recorded in just a week and featuring Stone as co-producer, Colour Me Free again takes a title indicating that the music is pure uncut Joss. The lead off single “Free Me” finds Stone declaring her freedom and possibly sending a message to her label. “Don’t tell me that I won’t, I can. Don’t tell that I’m not, I am. Don’t tell me that my master plan, ain’t coming true,” Stone belts out in her trademark Aretha Franklin meets Janis Joplin vocal style. She makes a clear statement of overcoming adversity and being yourself.
Musically the album is Stone’s most direct neo-soul undertaking calling on a range of the ’70s sound. “Parallel Lines” recruits guitar legend Jeff Beck and percussion queen Sheila E. to add some dynamic instrumentation on the track. “4 and 20” slows the pace and paints the vision of a smoke filled blues club. Raphael Saadiq returns on “Big Ole Game” and recalls the good old days of old school R&B.
The once (falsely) rumored Obama support song is actually one about government conspiracy. “Governmentalist” sounds like it came straight off the Super Fly soundtrack and is about as smooth as music can get. Joss asks, “How many lives will you sacrifice? Will you ever be satisfied,” before Queens’ emcee Nas rips a short but venomous verse where he speculates about everything from “genetically modified food” to “governmentalist killed the Kennedys.”
Even with the very adult contemporary duet with British songwriter Jamie Hartman called “Stalemate,” Joss is directing the albums’ intentions. Stone’s performance on this song is a demonstration of not just her power as a vocalist, but also her struggle to be an artist in control of her art. With each album of her career we have been given a little more of the inner soul of Joss Stone. Colour Me Free is her most revealing and possibly proudest achievement. We get Joss as singer, songwriter, and producer. In six years she has grown into a more promising artist, and at such a young age there is the promise that she will continue to develop.