Joss Stone has a particular habit that's either sweetly endearing or hugely annoying, depending on your point of view. When she's onstage and she addresses her crowd, straightforward conversational sentences come out as song, all hollers and whoops and emoting hands, as if life was one big X Factor audition. Although it's entirely fair to point out that Stone is many, many times more talented than your average X Factor winner.
"Are you ready to sing with me now?" she asks of the crowd early in the show, just as her sophomore hit "Super Duper Love" is striking up. This simple question is emoted like she's channelling the spirit of Martha Reeves in 1968, urging us to get out on the streets and protest; is this the song starting, or is she just practising? While Devon girl Stone is demonstrably consumed by excitement at every chance she gets to perform, the results can appear a bit kooky to say the least.
Ah yes, the eccentricity – let's call it that. It was just a little over two years ago that Stone was witnessed behaving strangely at the Brit Awards, having adopted an inexplicable Brooklyn accent and taken to writing lengthy (ie thousands of words long) blog posts on her website detailing her general happiness and thanks. Perhaps this was all just the exuberance of a very young woman – 19 at the time – who had all too quickly hit a huge level of international fame. Either way, the fickle world of pop won't forget such a scrap of gossip; it must be made to.
This low-key show, part of a hush-hush national pre-comeback tour and played in front of no more than 300 or 400 fans, unfeasibly went a long way towards putting her career back on track. On the small stage and under ultra-violet light, a glowing-white-suited seven-piece band and two backing singers squeezed together, giving the impression of an old-fashioned soul revue more than that of a pop group.
Stone herself looked demure in blonde curls and a virginal white dress, yet the air of transatlantic sass which she carries seems to fit almost naturally now. Perhaps commands to the audience to "Vibe with us" don't tumble naturally from her mouth, but the fresh acid jazz meets Studio 54 disco-funk of the opening "Girls" is so much more elegant and mature than anything she's done previously, at least in this live context.
It remains uncertain just how much control over each musical nuance Stone has (although the next album is called Colour Me Free), but she now appears sure of how she's presenting herself and utterly convinced by the music she's singing. Another new track entitled "Lady" enjoyed a slow Rotary Connection groove, her re-titled White Stripes cover "Fell in Love with a Boy" has been given a retooled Bobby Womack wah-wah and horns funk bed, and "Spoiled" appeared as a truly powerful a cappella just because a guy down the front asked for it.
"I think we've proved a point," she remarked. "This is no pop shit." And naturally this statement came in the form of a looping, hollering fragment of song; don't blow it this time, Joss.
Joss Stone will be performing at Dover Town Hall tomorrow ( www.jossstone.co.uk)