In 2003, when Joss Stone dropped her debut album, The Soul Sessions, she was the 16-year-old protg of soul singer Betty Wright singing semi-obscure R&B classics with few bells, whistles or frills outside her startling belting power. Her second release, Mind, Body and Soul, was all original material, but more of the same look and sound: a shy-looking blonde English schoolgirl's body hosting a powerhouse vocal talent that recalled Gladys Knight or post-Supremes Diana Ross. She seemed to be the soul princess in waiting. Besides her work honing her craft with Wright, she cowrote a song for Mind, Body and Soul with (and dated) Beau Dozier, son of Lamont Dozier from the legendary Motown hit-making team Holland-Dozier-Holland. She even shared a VH1 Divas special stage with Aretha Franklin, performed with Stevie Wonder in an all-star tribute to his body of work, scored a Grammy nomination for her performance of a Sly Stone cover, and sang "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" onstage with the late and legendary Godfather of Soul, James Brown. And her poodle, reports Giant magazine, is named Dusty Springfield.
Then came 2007 and the release of her third studio full-length release, the deliberately titled Introducing Joss Stone (Virgin Records), the cover of which revealed her with a full head of cascading black and hot-pink hair extensions -- and nothing else, save for a pair of red stiletto pumps and a full-body Laugh In-style paint job with the words "love" and "change" scrawled down the back of each leg. Still sounds like Patti LaBelle -- now looks like Christina Aguilera.
So it turns out, if critics were shocked and amazed that Stone was so young, yet so old-school, they were right. Introducing Joss Stone is a wholly contemporary album. Far from the warm, vintage setting of her two previous efforts, Introducing obviously took a heavy hand from Stone and producer Raphael Saadiq (formerly of Tony! Toni! Ton!) in the studio. It's laden with hip-hop beats, new-school R&B vocal exercising (Saadiq has worked previously with Mary J. Blige and Kelis) and guest raps from Common and the notoriously reclusive Fugee Lauryn Hill. The collage of a record still includes nods to her own -- and R&B's -- early years. The track "Baby Baby Baby" is as sweet and soulful as any of the work by her dog's namesake, and "Girl, They Won't Believe It" quotes Aretha. If the first two albums were the work of an A student of classic soul, according to Stone, Introducing is her post-graduate work. Joss Stone: 3:45 p.m. Sun., May 6, Gentilly Stage