Joss Stone, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

 

Joss Stone is talking about the nature of love. “Person to person, there should always be conditions,” she says. “You can’t just take any old shit off them and love them anyway. With music, though, it’s completely unconditional.”

Oddly, this advice comes just before a rambling, human beatboxassisted rendition of “Music” that forces me to conclude that, as amours go, pop can be a total bastard sometimes. Still, if she occasionally loves music more than it loves her, all through tonight’s gig, you can feel that Joss’s infatuation is sincere.

From early fame conquering continents and radios with 2003’s The Soul Sessions, her covers collaboration with elite US players, through later, sometimes ill-judged attempts to uncover the “real” Joss, via the slings and arrows of critical-scapegoat status and the bizarre uncovering of a plot to kill and rob her last year, she’s come full circle with this year’s The Soul Sessions Vol 2, and music is what she’s clung to.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can feel that tonight is a bit more about Joss and her crack band’s enjoyment than the effect of each song, the craft of performing. It’s all a bit jammy, a bit muso, and often, a bit too dragged out. And almost every song is approached with the same sultry smokey purr.

She’s grown into her voice over the years, but the relentless coquetry can still conjure the image of a little girl smeared in her mother’s lipstick and tottering in eight-times-too-big high heels. When the tone remains light and sunny, though, as on the everappealing “Super Duper Love”, she’s a winning presence, stalking the stage with loose hair and (oh dear) bare feet.

Her take on Honey Cone’s 1969 single “While You’re Out Looking for Sugar?” keeps the rollerskates-and-ice-cream vibe going, with mischievous vocal interplay between Stone and her two backing singers, but it’s hard not to compare her overbaked take on Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops” with the xx’s still-fresh-in-the-memory version, more restrained and much more powerful.

 Much more successful is her cover of Labi Siffre’s “I Got The”, a funky, vamping track sampled by Eminem on “My Name Is”. Like her reinterpretation of The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl”, it plays to Stone’s strengths, fun, with a modern nod that doesn’t try too hard (unlike the aforementioned, never-to-be-mentioned again beatboxer). Love, after all, shouldn’t be like hard work 

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