Sixteen-year-old Joss Stone is one of those freaks that pop and nature conspire to throw up from time to time. The abnormally attentive may have spotted her a few years ago, singing Donna Summer’s “On The Radio” on a BBC show called Star For A Night, a talent contest closer in spirit to Opportunity Knocks than the high-pressure cynicism of Pop Idol.
Stone’s reward for winning was a host of good contacts, which eventually brought her to Miami’s Hit Factory studios and the patronage of ’70s soul legend Betty Wright. Wright produced much of The Soul Sessions, helping select the largely obscure nuggets that make up the track listing and assembling a band of fellow Miami veterans like Timmy Thomas and Latimore to back up Stone. The reason why such historically pungent treatment was accorded a middle-class 16-year-old is apparent from the start of “The Chokin’ Kind”, a gospel-tinged retread of Harlan Howard’s country song which opens The Soul Sessions. Stone’s voice is huge and not a little unnerving. She has all the signifiers of deep soul experience: the husky, rich timbre; the confident testifying; the honeyed transitions. But the ruefulness, grime and pain?or at least a simulacrum of pain?aren’t there. It’s not problematic so much as weird, with Stone sounding like an ing