In many ways, 19-year-old Joss Stone is the musical equivalent of a young Tiger Woods. The two, both immensely talented at a young age, wield their talents in exactly the way you might expect a young, talented person to, achieving awe-inspiring results without always being entirely under control. Tiger did it with his swing, and now Joss is doing it with her pop diva voice. On her latest effort, Introducing Joss Stone, the aspiring diva exemplifies the qualities of a burgeoning young talent — the aforementioned ability to inspire awe in listeners, as well as over-the-top vocals. The talent in the songstress' pipes is undeniable, powerful and aged well beyond her 19 years. Introducing Joss Stone is so heavily steeped in Motown R&B, hip-hop and soul, the listener may forget that the tantalizing voice is a gift from the lovely Brits across the pond. The first track of the album, "Change," features a humorous and appropriate monologue from the loveable Vinnie Jones. Best-known for movies like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," Jones brings his "Bullet Tooth Tony" Cockney accent to the preface of the album, proclaiming, "You gotta have the balls to change." Change, according to Jones, needs to come from the past and the present, and that is exactly what Stone does in her approach to the album. By combining the sounds of today and yesterday, Stone creates her own sound. A perfect example is the seductive track "Headturner," where Stone fuses her diva influences with a flirtatious style, belting out Aretha-style lines like, "What you want, baby I got it … sexual, mmm, I got it." Although it often works for her, the diva sound of the past — like an early Tiger Woods' swing — can get out of control. Blessed with a set of pipes that can hold their own alongside the Aretha's, Mariah's and Christina's of the music world, Stone has the talent, but has yet to reach a mastery of her voice the way these three have. On several of the album's choruses and bridges, the floodgates on Stone's vocals have been lifted, if not completely obliterated. The sonic power play sounds like the final section of a VH1 Diva's Live concert, when all of the singers come out and try to outdo each other. As a result, songs like "Bad Habit" and "Baby Baby Baby" become saturated with Stone's vocal runs. This is unfortunate, especially in the case of the latter of the two, since the embellishment only serves to detract from the incredibly catchy Raphael Saadiq-produced hip-hop beat that anchors the song. The album succeeds on the tracks where Stone exercises a firm hold over her vocal range and molds it around the beats that Saadiq lays down behind her. The strongest song on the album, much more so than the first single "Tell Me 'Bout It," is the tightly crafted "Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now." With a cameo from the soulful Common and a beat that rings like a blend of the acoustic version of 2Pac's "Thugz Mansion" and the Fugees' "Ready or Not," the stage is set for Stone to either fit into the song or overshadow it with diva stylings. In this case, her vocals fit perfectly. Just when you think that her voice is building toward a vocal free-for-all on each verse, she stops. Instead, her voice drops to a crooning mellowness that matches Common's rhymes, the beat, and ultimately, the song. Every time that she reaches that vocal threshold she drops back to the song, giving it a great give-and-take feel throughout. Stone is also maturing lyrically. Whereas in the past she "Fell in Love with a Boy," on Introduction, Stone has fallen into bed with a boy. In "Put Your Hands on Me," she begs, "I guess I'm picky with love/ Well, baby I give up, it's you I choose/ And don't keep me waiting/ This girl's got things she needs to do … Bring me your sugar and pour it all over me, baby." Lines like these suggest that Stone is either vastly undersexed or simply a huge Def Leppard fan. Similarly, in the single "Tell me 'Bout It," Stone is asked several times how many times she needs loving in a day, to which Stone responds that she warms up at two. (This may rule out the Def Leppard explanation.) Whatever the explanation, the lyrics fit the song, as well as Stone's voice. She embraces her newfound role as a sex symbol, and her voice is as enticing in an aggressive, romp between-the-sheets sort of way as Nora Jones' voice is in a "let's go on a picnic and snuggle" sort of way. Many musicians are able to catch lightning in a bottle and create few great songs at the start of their career, only to gradually fade away. Stone is too talented for this; she is going to develop into a stronger and stronger musician. Is this her best album? Yes. Is it great? No. But like Tiger Woods, whose swing has matured over the years into a calculated, firmly-controlled precision device, Joss Stone's voice and music will continue to improve with age. Grade: 3 out of 5
Stone entertains on edge of control
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