LP1 marks the third successive album from Joss Stone where she’s attempting to hit the restart button on her career, to usher in a new beginning for the neo-soul diva or, better yet, find the right setting for her considerable gifts. This journey began with 2007’s splashy modern R&B set Introducing Joss Stone, a makeover she rebelled against on her major-label kiss-off Colour Me Free, and now that she’s truly independent, she’s aligned with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart for LP1, returning to the classicism of her earliest work. There is a difference. Stewart is naturally reluctant to present Stone in a strictly soul setting; R&B is the foundation, but he dabbles in tight funk, folk, blues, Euro-rock, and modernist pop, giving LP1 just enough elasticity so it breathes and just enough color so it doesn’t seem staid.
Before she’s truly freed from the shackles of EMI, Joss Stone must endure one final indignity: that standard end-of-contract ploy, a greatest-hits album, covering her six years with the label. Every one of her 12 singles for the label is here, with the Jamie Hartman duet “Stalemate” – originally released on Ben’s Brother’s 2009 album – added as a concluding track. If this doesn’t dig deep, it nevertheless hits all the highlights – her White Stripes cover “Fell in Love with a Boy,” her Top Ten U.K. hit “You Had Me,” “Don’t Cha Wanna Ride,” her only charting U.S. single “Tell Me 'Bout It,” the Common duet “Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now” – drawing a picture of the decade when Stone was always on the cusp of stardom yet never quite truly there. As introductions go, it’s a solid one, capturing her potential and promise, alternating between singles frustrating and fun.
The "free" in the title to Joss Stone's fourth album apparently refers to the neo-soul singer breaking free from the shackles of her major label, EMI, who apparently have not let Joss be Joss. That this constricting argument happens to be the exact same story line Stone used for 2007's Introducing Joss Stone, the splashy diva power trip meant to unveil the "real" singer, is conveniently forgotten, as is the modern R&B of that makeover, with Joss returning to all the retro-soul of her first two records. The one lingering element of Introducing is a propensity for melisma-laden oversinging, a tic that stands out greatly in the warmer, funkier settings of Colour Me Free!, helping Joss seem somewhat disconnected from the emotional thrust of her music. Still, her raw vocal skills remain impressive, as does her taste in soul, and even if this feels off-kilter, not quite achieving a balance between retro and modernity, it does beat with a messy human heart, one that was subdued on Introducing, so perhaps she did need to break free.
Preparation is overrated. Impulse is everything. Such was the rebellious wisdom that drove the sessions for Project Mama Earth's astonishing debut EP. In June 2017, five world-renowned musicians met in Devon England for a high-wire act unique in modern music. They had no songs. No chord charts. No game plan. No safety net. Nothing, in fact, but a plan to play and catch the sparks. Where a lesser band would have stumbled, the gauntlet was readily seized by the all-star Mama Earth lineup of Joss Stone (vocals), Nitin Sawhney (guitar), Jonathan Joseph (drums), Étienne M'Bappé (bass/guitar) and Jonathan Shorten (keyboards). "The possibility for catastrophe was huge," nods the drummer. "It could have completely tanked. But the minute everyone stood in the studio, before we even touched an instrument – I just knew."
Possibilities is a Herbie Hancock adventure record. This ten-cut smorgasbord features the ever restless pianist, composer, and arranger in the company of literally dozens of artists, from pop singers like Christina Aguilera, Sting, and Annie Lennox to rock legends such as Santana and Paul Simon to relative newcomers like John Mayer, Jonny Lang, and Joss Stone, as well as some renowned international performers, such as Angélique Kidjo and Raul Midón in a wide range of songs, styles, and moods. Hancock cut the record in studios all over the world, all the collaborations were done face to face, not long distance. Session musicians here include everyone from Stevie Wonder (who plays the harmonica solo on the cover of his tune "I Just Called to Say I Love You"), to Santana to Cyro Baptista, Willie Weeks, John Pattitucci, Steven Jordan, and Gina Gershon (the actress)! The standout cuts are the sensual read of Leon Russell's "A Song for You," sung by Aguilera, Simon's jazzed-up revisioning of his "I Do It for Your Love," and Lennox's read of "Hush, Hush, Hush," written by Paula Cole (whatever happened to her?).
The time that has flown is Smokey's 50 years in the business, but it could just as well refer to the number of years since Robinson has released a smooth soul album: almost 20 full years! Smokey, of course, has stayed active during the interim, both on-stage and on record, but Time Flies When You're Having Fun marks a return to the coolly simmering quiet storm that was his stock in trade during the '70s and '80s. Apart from production techniques, not much has changed in Smokey's music during the time off, either: this is still smooth, unhurried soul that vacillates between elegance and supper-club classiness. Of course, since these are two sides of the same coin, they fit together seamlessly, with the only question being whether the immaculately polished music veers toward the corny, but whenever it does, Smokey's impeccably tailored vocals steer it back to toward the sweetly romantic. After all these years, Smokey still makes it all seem easy – so easy that it's puzzling why he hasn't made a record like this in so long, because as this comforting, velvety album proves, nobody does it better than he.
On Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue, Van Morrison and the guests selected and recorded some of his songs from the catalog of 360 songs across his career. Deliberately steering away from his more well-known classics, Van enlisted some of the artists he most respects to perform these songs with him to re-craft and re-imagine them. The album was recorded in his home town of Belfast and London in the United Kingdom over the last year, using a variety of musicians and fresh arrangements.