At first glance, naming her third album “Introducing Joss Stone” appears to be a bit of misnomer. Certainly, she is known well-enough from her two S-Curve recordings that a switch to Virgin doesn’t truly merit a second unveiling of this strong soulful songstress from the U.K. After hearing her perform her new album live Wednesday at a sweltering House of Blues, it appears she is, at the least, introducing a more modern sound and a more assertive style of singing.
Just 19, Stone has gone from a twirling teen hippie to an uptown thrush decked out in a sequined mini-dress with her hair curled and dyed magenta. Her right-hand man is Raphael Saadiq, the guitarist and bandleader who drove Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl and has been put in charge of driving her sound from the gritty pre-disco soul influence of the early 1970s into the 21st century without hitting any stylistic potholes.
Together they have created a brash and hard-hitting sound that generally suits her voice just fine.
The short show — a pinch over an hour including encores — revealed that Stone has a good command of the material overall and a great command of a few of the tunes; bizarrely, the sound mix went from good to muddy about half-way through the set making it difficult to tell whether it was the singer or the equipment that was struggling.
Saadiq lends an Oakland toughness to all his projects; Stone obviously realizes she’s not in Memphis anymore. On the album, which will be released March 20, she is joined by Common and Lauryn Hill and she meets hip-hop at a halfway stop between hardcore rap and the soul music of the early ’70s, especially on the ballad “Music.” It’s a trick already mastered by Alicia Keys.
The first single, “Tell Me About It,” is rich with classic Aretha Franklin motifs — the exultant talk-singing, dynamics created by having instruments drop out and then reappear, the back ground singers’ compact “woops” and an extended oooh. It opens with a catchy riff played on the bass strings of the guitar, a modernist touch that reminds the listener Stone doesn’t belong on oldies radio. There are moments, though, when the influence is too close to surface — one track is but a note away from the Diana Ross hit “Reach Out and Touch” and “Baby Baby Baby” takes the intro from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” sets it to a smoldering groove. She might want to think about blending the new with the old and make it a testament to the staying power of Southern soul music.
Stone will perform Feb. 8 at New York’s Bowery Ballroom.