The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2
Back in 2003, Joss Stone catapulted herself to fame with "The Soul Sessions," a collection of R&B classics and vintage soul songs.
The album felt like an experiment. Could a British teenager channel the pain, grit and groove of her favorite American singers from the '60s despite never having lived their blues herself? According to the 5 million people who bought "The Soul Sessions," the answer was an immediate "Yes," and Miss Stone became one of the leading women in a genre that later would spawn old-school soul singers including Adele and Amy Winehouse.
On "The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2," she returns to the sound that launched her career. This is another covers album, filled with new versions of old songs. The basic template is the same, but the nine years that separate this record from its predecessor make all the difference, and the new Miss Stone — grown-up, jaded, even a little bit angry — no longer sounds like an experiment.
There's genuine fire in Miss Stone's voice, a supersized alto that huffs and puffs like a steam engine during the album's faster moments. She croons one minute and screeches the next, willing to let herself get carried away if the song is good enough — and the songs are almost always good enough, even if they're not the old standbys you might expect.
Familiar tunes by Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight are absent from the track list. Instead, Miss Stone sinks her teeth into a terrific cover of Honey Cone's "While You're Out Looking for Sugar" and slinks her way through a sexy, swampy version of Tim Renwick's "Sideways Shuffle." Most of the material is from the 1980s, an era overlooked by most soul fans, and "Vol. 2" even pays a visit to the 21st century with a smart, unexpected rendition of the Broken Bells hit "The High Road."
Sure, she tends to oversing. Show me a diva who doesn't. After becoming one of the highest-selling British artists of all time, Miss Stone has earned the right to indulge, and this kind of music certainly doesn't call for understatement.
A Thousand Miles Left Behind
With "A Thousand Miles Left Behind," the three members of Gloriana do their best to distinguish themselves from Lady Antebellum, the reigning coeds of country music. Both bands have a lineup consisting of two boys and one girl, and both spice up their country songs with lush, lovely doses of pop melody. Lady Antebellum's shadow is too big to escape, though, and Gloriana never manages to find its own spotlight on this spotty sophomore record.
It didn't used to be this way. Until last year, Gloriana was a four-piece band featuring Cheyenne Kimball, former winner of "America's Most Talented Kid." She beefed up the band's harmonies and turned Gloriana into a sort of country choir.
With Miss Kimball out of the picture, Gloriana feels more like a solo vehicle for Tom Gossin, who writes the lion's share of these new songs and sings most of them in a pleasant, if somewhat ordinary, voice. The band's harmonies are still a common ingredient, but they're only tossed into the pot during the choruses. Few songs are built around the alchemy that happens when all three members sing together, so the harmonies wind up serving as frosting, when they should be the cake.
That's a shame, because Mr. Gossin's songs don't stand up on their own. "Carolina Rose," a tribute to the long-suffering girlfriend of a traveling musician, is the exception, thanks to a set of lyrics that sound personal, raw and honest. The other songs resort to old country cliches, meaning there's a lot of talk about summer sunsets, midnight kisses, open highways and steaming blacktop.
"Soldier Song" is the biggest offender, a military tune that attempts to honor American troops but winds up sounding like a Hallmark card, its message buried beneath more cheese than a takeout order from Papa Johns. Is this supposed to be growth, or did losing Miss Kimball — easily the most famous member of the band — take some of the glory out of Gloriana?