Unless you’ve been listening to nothing but XFM for the last few years, you may have been aware that the styles, semantics and swing of American Black pop has virtually annexed the charts, whether in the first person or by dint of influence.
33 when she released her first album, Black Diamond, in 1999, Angie Stone was unlikely ever to be pigeonholed with the seemingly never-ending motherlode of pneumatic R ‘n’ B singers, but has instead carved a veritable niche in slick, adult, soul grooves. Adult, not in the sense of being rather rude about nookie, but adult in the sense of sounding worldly wise and experienced about relationships ‘n’ stuff.
Never a fire and brimstone maiden of melisma like Mary J Blige, or a mistress of dazzling studio pyrotechnics like Missy Elliott, Stone relies instead on solid songcraft and arranging that allows her voice, never overstated, room to breathe. Add a few complimentary producers, a fluid mix of live instrumentation and good ol’ Pro Tools, and the Angie Stone formula is complete. It may be short on surprises, but you know it’s long on quality.
Stone Love is Stone’s third album following on from Mahogany Soul of 2002. Judging by the choice of typefaces, and cap tilted just-so-’71, Stone is more than aware that she’s ever open to accusations of retro-stylings. However, like its predecessors, Stone Love neatly avoids the saccharine seasoning and horrendous filler that so bedevilled soul albums back in the day way before R ‘n’ B got a healthy dose of hip-hop in its veins.
Having a keen ear for an unobtrusive sample certainly helps. The Backstabbers sample that breathed scary menace into Stone’s classic Wish I Didn’t Miss You was no one-off. Come Home (Live With Me), one of Stone Love’s highlights, kicks back with the legendary harp of Dorothy Ashby underscoring a cool breeze of an arrangement.
Also, the now by-rote roll-call of superstar guests is never allowed to crowd out the easy flow of the album. Snoop Dogg sounds almost in disguise as guest rapper on I Wanna Thank Ya, while Tweet, Floetry, Missy Elliott, Anthony Hamilton and a host of others are hiding behind the beat elsewhere.
Soul legend Betty Wright‘s presence is a little more clearer. Fresh from working with Angie Stone on Joss Stone‘s album (no relation), Wright brightens this album’s own Stax-Atlantic tribute That Kind Of Love, a potential single.
But really, it’s Stone alone that belongs in the limelight for the woman-done-wrong travails of U-Haul, while Lovers’ Ghetto will make you forget what a rotten summer this has been so far.
Yes, like Stone’s other records, Stone Love has its moments when you feel she’s on automatic, and, like the others, it’s a tad longer than it really needs to be. The harmonies and counter-harmonies of Cinderella Ballin’ rely on one-rhyme phrases to do their work for them, and there’s no need in this world for two versions of I Wanna Thank Ya.
Though there’s nothing to match Wish I Didn’t Miss You on Stone Love (or on any other album this year for that matter), there’s more than enough here to wipe away the working day. If you haven’t yet checked out any of Angie Stone’s records, there’s every reason to start here.