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Joss Stone's 'Soul' Reunion

©Robert Sebree
Joss Stone (©Stoned Records)

The British singer-songwriter revisits the classic soul strategy that forged her career, this time as her own boss

By Larry Gilchrist
Special to MSN Music

Joss Stone is no stranger to covers. Nearly a decade ago, the Britain-born soulster cut her teeth on a gender-reversing cover of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" -- from her debut, "The Soul Sessions" -- and it resulted in accolades, attention, four more albums and the requisite strife posed by a series of label changes.

Now, the more self-assured Stone, 25, returns to covers with "The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2," released on her own newly formed Stone'd imprint via the boutique S-Curve label that released her debut. The album, a collection of deep soul grooves and an unexpected selection or two, is reflective of where the songstress is now. It's open, honest and refuses to be put into a box.

MSN Music: What inspired "The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2"?

Joss Stone: Steve [Greenberg, S-Curve Records founder and CEO] just asked me and I said yes. I didn't sit there at home and say, "Oh, my God! I want to do covers again! " I love writing, so it didn't cross my mind. And now, of course, as I am doing interviews, people are like, "Its 10 years on," and actually that's a good point. It is pretty much 10 years: It's actually nine and a bit, but that's cool because now maybe I can make it into a thing so every 10 years I can do it. That might be quite fun, so even if I go and disappear and have babies or something, I'll always come back every 10 years.

How did you go about deciding what songs you wanted to cover this time around?

You've got to take into account the lyrics and whether they fit with where you're at in your head and whether you have some connection with it. Some song lyrics are very personal and specific to the writer, and it's wrong to do it if you haven't lived that or know someone that has, because it would be disrespectful. So, you have to be respectful of these songs because they are what shaped what we do today and they've inspired us. It's a hard job because I don't want ruin the songs either, so I've got to make sure that musically it's done in a nice, classy way but not the same, because then it's karaoke.

Obviously, we took all of that into account when we were picking the songs, but I didn't really sit and think about anything. We got everyone in a room, they were all ready to play, I sat by my laptop and we played songs. "OK, should we do this one?" And they listened, wrote down whatever chords they needed to and we discussed it. We really just played it. It wasn't a deep discussion, because I think that sucks the love out of it.

MSN Music: Critics' reviews and more for "The Soul Sessions"

Were there any songs that you chose that didn't work or didn't make it?

Yeah, there was one song -- Ann Sexton's "You've Been Gone Too Long" -- that I love. We ended up using the sound of it, rather than covering the actual song on "While You're Out Looking for Sugar." The music [for that song] is completely inspired by it  the guitar lick and everything. It's as if I'm covering two songs, even though the lyrics don't come from the Ann Sexton one. So, that's cool.

There are other songs that I recorded that I don't want to use. I recorded 19 songs and there are 11 on the album. I also added four more to the deluxe, so that's 15. And the other four, I don't know ... I think there are two that I would maybe use later as a bonus thing, but the other two I wouldn't.

In addition to the soul classics you're known for, you also covered Broken Bells' "The High Road." How did that come about?

Steve suggested that. He wanted to have a contemporary cover, just like we did on the last one with "Fell in Love With a Boy." So, he played me a couple of songs that were contemporary, and that was my choice because of the lyrics and the way the song is written. The melody is killer and it's got so much angst. The lyrics are also cryptic at some times, but yet they're very clear at other times, which I think is pretty cool. Whereas the classic songs aren't open to interpretation; they just are what they are. I just really hope I didn't wreck that one, because it's already perfect the way it was.

Can fans expect an album of new material as well soon?

Yeah, I think I'm going to do it in the next couple of days. I am going to go and write some more, but I think I want to do a reggae vibe. Damian [Marley] has inspired me a little bit. He's actually worked with me on some stuff, and it was just wicked. Obviously, I'm not Jamaican, so it's going to have to be reggae soul mixed with a little bit of hip-hop or R&B.

Bing: Joss Stone music videos

This is your first release on your own imprint. Will you be signing other acts as well?

No. I've signed a band called Yes Sir Boss, and they [already] have an EP out, "Desperation State." They're like a little ska rock festival. ... It's good music, man! I'm trying to help, but I don't know what I'm doing, so I try to put people in place that do know what they're doing to do their job. You have to know your strengths, but you have to know your weaknesses as well.

I see my job at Stone'd to be the protector of the art, to make sure that the deals are fair and that [my artists] are never pushed into anything they don't want to do. We also want to give the leverage so that they can do what they want to do and make this their job, so they don't have to take a second job at the post office. They can actually play and live from what they're doing. That's our mission. Fingers crossed it will work out and I can help more artists. I think it will as long as people get to hear it. It's about getting people to hear it  that's the problem. The queen could make a record, but if you don't tell everybody it's out there, no one will ever hear it.

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