While Joss Stone’s new release The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 is primed for a respectable first-week showing on the Billboard 200, one has to go all the way to the beginning of her career to find “Vol. 1.” The original Soul Sessions was Stone’s debut album, a set of cover songs released in 2003 when she was just 16. It instantly established her as a next-generation soul singer, and set the course for her career.
That said, after a series of mixed-review albums, the release of The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 suggests something of a reboot for the artist. Stone (now 25) is revisiting the format that first propelled her to fame: cover songs set to a 70’s soul vibe.
As to the album itself, there’s nothing really bad to say about it. It’s not really groundbreaking, but it’s not necessarily supposed to be. It’s presentable and respectable, and it does what it’s supposed to do—it showcases Stone’s outstanding voice in a setting of (relatively) familiar tunes. Most of the songs hail back to the 80’s, such as “Teardrops” by Cecil Womack and “Pillow Talk” by Sylvia Robinson. Perhaps the most inventive cut on the record is a soulful rendition of “The High Road,” released by electro-alternative duo Broken Bells just a few years ago.
But for me, the thing that gives me mixed emotions is the context of this release—specifically, the fact that there is a “volume 1,” and that it happened to be the very thing that launched Stone’s career. Had this new record not had a “volume 1” attached to it, we’d have just interpreted it as a cool, fun project by an established soul singer. But because The Soul Sessions was such a significant launching pad, and we’re seeing “volume 2” nearly ten years later, it sends a subtle message of desperation—like things aren’t going so well, so we’re going to try what worked 10 years ago and remind everyone of who Joss Stone is. I’m not saying this is what’s going on—I honestly don’t know what’s in the minds of Stone or her production team—but it does sort of send that message nonetheless.
So don’t get me wrong—The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 is a fine album on its own. Joss Stone fans are certain to enjoy it, and I have no doubt that it will make its way onto many a party playlist. But whether this record will actually help or hurt Stone in the long run remains to be seen. If a reboot was needed, I can’t help but wonder if this was a bit of a phone-in. Perhaps a well-produced album of outstanding new content would have better served her purposes.
ALBUM RATING: 3 Stars (out of five)