It has never been easy to peg Joss Stone to a particular genre. She seems to wander around R&B, Soul, Pop and Jazz most of the time, but she has her own voice and rhythm. She also has an inherent sense of whimsy that is sometimes reflected in her playfulness with handling a song, whether it manifests itself in lyrics or an adopted accent. I think that’s why so many of us love her singing; despite having a unique sound, she plays around with what she’s doing so that she brings something new to every project and every song.
Stone definitely brought a new, but recognizable, sound to her latest album, Water for Your Soul. World Music is probably the best moniker for the type of music it represents, with sounds reminiscent of AfroPop, Caribbean, Reggae, Spanish guitar and maybe even a bit of Celtic. I think this quote from a recent interview with the singer nicely summarizes her attitude toward genres: ”My mum said the album is in the world music section on Amazon. I’m chuffed, because what do I know? I’m just making music, and I’m enjoying the sounds I get to hear from all the travel.” None of her whimsical nature or her view that genres aren’t important is indicative of how seriously she takes her music; let it be known that she is all about making music.
From the initial plucked strings and drum intro for “Love Me” to the last line of “The Answer,” we’re in for a treat with this album. The music tightly meshes with lyrics, and there is audio of children’s playful sounds, a plethora of beats and, of course, Ms. Stone’s beautiful voice. “Love Me” sets the tone with an initial beat that grabs you, and its lyrics may suggest a conventional love song: “Love me from your heart / Love me from your soul / Take me as the one you chose.” Both the laid back beat and some lyrics like “Now don’t give me those eyes / It’s meaning less, please hide it” and her powerful voice overlay her clearly evident passion.
The theme of love, albeit the failed and abusive kind, continues in ”This Ain’t Love.” The music punctuates the meaning of each phrase with almost visceral power: “Baby can you hear this sound / All the arguments are screaming out / This ain’t love that we’ve found at all, at all / Baby won’t you realize / You know that I’m not your prize / Why we wasting our time / To me you’re nothing at all.” It’s gut-wrenching, painful stuff, and Ms. Stone is just a tad in your face with it from the perspective of the abused partner. This mix of layered sounds, rhythms paced to meaning and that great soulful voice of Ms. Stone’s are the true magic of this album.
While I typically immerse myself in any album I review, I’ve probably listened to this one at least a couple dozen times. Each stanza, every turn of phrase and each lilt of guitar or punch of drum comes together to give a complexity and nuance to the music that allows us to continually uncover more.
“Star” has a great beat that once again plays well with the sentiment of don’t-tell-me-what-to-do-or-think: “Tell me do you feel an angel somehow / Has given you the right / To advise the world and his wife / How to live their lives / Whoever you may be”. Similarly, “Let Me Breathe” has a great undercurrent of a beat, but with a Spanish flavor. “Wake Up” helps us do exactly that, with Ms. Stone joined by Damian Marley for a more aggressive sound and pacing with a more reggae bent. “Underworld” has a beautiful bluesy beginning, and the rhythm is mixed back up in “Molly Town” with a nice pop flavor. “Sensimilia” flows right into R&B (I could see Sade singing this song) and it goes on. It’s not quite like a musical Epcot Center where you visit a new country in each song; rather, with Water for Your Soul, the world is incorporated into each song, and disparate elements are woven together.