Every now and then, as 19-year-old British singing sensation Joss Stone is wailing through one of the neo-soul and hip-hop-enhanced R&B cuts on her third album, I find myself thinking about American Idol. Stone has far better equipment than most of the melisma-addicted ladies who try to get over with Simon Cowell and company. But there's something about the energy she transmits on potentially explosive material like the overblown heart song "Arms of My Baby" and the woofer-ripping Aretha Franklin-style estrogen anthem "Tell Me 'Bout It" that seems willfully overdone. All her moaning and pleading and carrying on is for the judges. Her own hurt, her own joy, her own sense of what it means to be a strong, indomitable, natural woman just aren't in her performances.
Does Stone put on believable impressions of Aretha and Gladys and even, at times, Prince? Sure. But they're just impressions. She's obviously made a careful study of her heroes' phrasing, but apparently she doesn't have the life experience to produce the kind of soul music that sends shivers up your spine. Introducing Joss Stone was supposed to be the album that turned the public (especially the American public) on to a grittier, more "urban," more contemporary Stone, and frankly, it doesn't do that.