Some will tell you that this album from 16-year-old Brit Joss Stone is a smash, while others, in full devil's advocate wear, can't wait to roll out their gripes. The first gripe is that Stone was a Britney Spears wanna-be in the not-so-distant past. Second is the complaint that, instead of backing up Stone, veteran musicians such as Betty Wright (best known for the hit "Clean Up Woman"), Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, and Benny Lattimore should be the ones up front, sponsored by their own recording deals. To the first I say, Who cares? On The Soul Sessions, the hefty-voiced Stone sings like it's 1967 and she's auditioning at Stax, throughout displaying impressive control and restraint--and courage. That she has the brass (and we're not just talking about the horns) to tackle an Aretha Franklin song, "All the King's Horses," tells you a lot. That she nails it tells you even more. As for the second issue, well yeah, who wouldn't want to see the likes of Wright and Hale get their due? But in the meantime, I'm just happy to see them on records, period--especially Wright, who also produced most of the songs on the album.
And hats off to whoever is responsible for the song selection, which ranges from "The Chokin' Kind" (a Harlan Howard-penned song that was a country hit for Waylon Jennings and a soul hit for Joe Simon) and the Soul Brothers Six's hip-shaker "Some Kind of Wonderful," to a pair of ringers, the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Boy," and John Sebastian's "I Had a Dream." Best of all is a preternaturally confident take on Laura Lee's good-riddance classic "Dirty Man," presented strippeddown and gutty. On that number and throughout, Stone shows that, no matter her age or resume, she brought her own sense of soul to the sessions.