Joss Stone, Academy 2, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

The legend has already been engraved. Precocious singer dwells on classic-soul repertoire, her CD destined for the coffee tables of folks who dig good-quality music.

A homely atmosphere pervaded the venue's cramped space, as if the concert were a showcase gig at Joss Stone's local Devonshire pub. This was the first date of her introductory mini-tour, and it seemed to be full of friends and family, banter tossed to and from the stage. Stone's between-song announcements were modest and interspersed with fits of giggles, appropriately for the 16-year-old that she is. But she turns 30 once each deep-roots number lurches into motion.

There's the feeling that to be this well defined in terms of her artistic direction at such an early age, Stone must surely have musically inclined parents, pushing her nose into their vintage vinyl collection. A faintly uneasy feeling creeps out from the stage when she slinks through the lyrics to Bobby Miller's "Dirty Man", trying to sound as if she's travelled the hard road of sexual disillusion. Despite her flyaway tresses, Joss is still many years away from being Janis Joplin.

Her Soul Sessions debut album boasts the ultra-impressive presence of the old masters Benny Latimore, Timmy Thomas and the co-producer Betty Wright. Then there's the jazz drummer (and Lenny Kravitz sidewoman) Cindy Blackman and Ahmir Thompson from The Roots. So the white Stone's touring combo is predominantly black - surely a hand-picked crew, designed to underline an authentic soul factor. They're set on providing a comparable Seventies feel, complete with stinging lead-guitar lines and a couple of moaning harmony vocalists.

The album sticks almost exclusively to old soul gems, but Stone's second disc is to feature some of her own songwriting efforts. One number, which has been jointly penned with her mother, has a mainline R&B sound, and another original can boast the oddly moronic chorus of "jet lag, jet lag". At this stage, the vintage-soul repertoire remains her wisest choice.

Stone's decelerated treatment of the White Stripes classic is renamed "Fell In Love With A Boy", and this spreading of a new soul mantle over a rock base represents a direction that should take on a more dominant role. She could also do with a few up-tempo numbers in the set - maybe some Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett.

Stone has an appeal that will cross age boundaries, as evidenced by the broad spread of types gathered under this roof. Youngsters will discover the music of old, while hoary pensioners will marvel at the resurrection of this forgotten live sound.

The most important factor is Stone's voice. It's a powerful, raspy approximation of the Southern (states, not counties) testifying style, rising close to inflamed passion, but not attaining the true state of wanton abandonment required by these songs. She's well on the way, though, as evidenced by the rousing encore of "Some Kind Of Wonderful". A few more years of hard living will do the trick - a dose of downer life lessons to bring some authenticity to the experiences of Stone's chosen songbook.

Manchester University tonight; Scala, London, tomorrow; Fleece & Firkin, Bristol, on Thursday