Listening to neo-soul singer Angie Stone’s latest is akin to a game of Where’s Waldo? Or Where’s Angie?, as the case may be.
Every other cut here features a marquee guest spot. Rapper Snoop Dogg drops by for some g-a-n-g-s-t-a riffing on “I Wanna Thank Ya”; the duo Floetry turns up on “My Man”; crooner Anthony Hamilton buffs up “Stay for a While”; and soul legend Betty Wright is featured on the beach-bouncy “That Kind of Love.”
Miss Stone’s fiance, up-and-coming rapper T.H.C., donates a rhyme to the Spanish-y “Karma.”
Even without the big-namers, the ones who merit parenthetical mention on the track listing, the songs on “Stone Love” are so overlaid with call-and-response side dishes and spicy background voices (male and female) that it’s hard to enjoy the main course.
Better to take in the album as a unified sound experience. The album, her third, is a mid-tempo grab-bag of lady hip-hop, light funk and smoky pop.
As executive producer, Miss Stone is as much the CEO as she is the star of “Stone Love.” As a singer, she’s middle management. But as the cat-herder of a long list of recording engineers and songwriters, she’s the company visionary.
Most important to this CD is Miss Stone’s imaginative choice of digital sampling.
“Lovers’ Ghetto” contains a tasty excerpt of the old Dynasty song “Adventures in the Land of Music.” “You’re Gonna Get It” is embedded with a smooth orchestration from the Delfonics’ “La La Means I Love You.”
The best song here, the breathy, bumpy-grindy “U-Haul,” was co-written with rapper Missy Elliott. It’s a belated “I’m leavin’” to a man who should’ve been dumped a long time ago, with some amusing communication-device lyrics: “I’ve been by your side like your two-way/Like a pager with no clamp, that’s you lost me.”
This is the kind of product-plugging most often associated with street-savvy male rappers, but from Miss Stone it sounds sweet and sultry.
“Stone Love” would’ve been even better if Miss Stone had the confidence to fully trust that sweet-and-sultry voice of hers.