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Willow

Title - 'Introducing Joss Stone' (Virgin)
Artist - Joss Stone

Troubling as it is, Joss Stone is indicative of a strong problem with popular music, and her haughtily-titled new album "Introducing Joss Stone" continues the indication. Stone has verve and sizzle - there's no disputing the British vocalist has a uniquely talented throat. However, as on her previous releases, the ingredients don't quite jell.

Like 2004's "Mind, Body and Soul," the new record is weighed down by too much style and too little substance. To call Stone pretentious would be a massive understatement. As if it isn't enough that she systematically checkmarks all the soul singer clichs, everything from her image to her album titles to her cover art reflect such an air of self-importance that each CD should come with its own gust of wind. The title sounds ripe for a debut LP - not a third major release from an established artist, and the speech intro by English footballer Vinnie Jones, "Change," further attempts to convey to the listener that, yet again, Stone has thrown a curveball to her creative palette. Please.

Stone's main predicament is that she sounds like an amalgamation of many of her influences, but with far less memorable material. She clearly draws upon classic singers of blues, Motown, even Tin Pan Alley - harkening memories of better, more fully-realized songs than the ones she delivers. This means that, aside from some modern flourishes and mainstream influences, she has hardly made any significant "change" since the last time around.

Jarring lyrics spew out of Stone's mouth left and right. No matter how invested she may attempt to sound or how funky the instrumentation may be, awkward wordplay such as this verse from lead single "Tell Me `Bout It" simply cannot hide: "Let's have a show of hands, who's addicted to their man?/If I could do the things I want to you, you'd be changing all your plans/You wanna say I'm yours, I wanna say get it/You wanna say, so say, I know what you're thinking babe."

Stone has a strong presence and a likeable, engaging set of pipes, even if her full potential seems to be seething below the surface. Still, it comes as no surprise that the entire record sounds like one very long song that's both overcooked and overzealous. The only slight variations come in the form of cool-as-cucumber ballads like "Bruised But Not Broken" and "What Were We Thinking?," leaving the mildly hooky "Headturner" as, well, the only head turner left on the disc.

As Christina Aguilera keeps on proving, a fine voice does not automatically equal a fine album. Whereas she goes way over the top in her performances, ripping fine ballads to shreds, Stone takes a different course: Holding back too often, and accumulating less than stellar compositions. Both are guilty of imitating their influences far too obviously; in a perfect world, Etta James would be receiving royalties.

At age 19, Stone is still young, and will doubtless go through many a "change" in what is sure to be a long, fruitful career in commercial terms. She may well make fine records one day too, but "Introducing Joss Stone" is merely mediocre; a half-hearted testament to her talent with only the guise of brilliance at its disposal.





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