Joss Stone's 2012 release THE SOUL SESSIONS VOL. 2 is the follow up to her debut album, THE SOUL SESSIONS. This sequel of sorts carries a similar theme to Stone's debut: it's a collection of covers that were recorded live in the studio. Two important points about this album being recorded live: 1) it sound's just as polished as something that would have taken multiple takes and editing and 2), the live atmosphere brings a certain energy to the performance that is unrivaled in today's pop scene. It's taken 9 years for a proper follow-up to her debut, but it's been worth the wait.
THE SOUL SESSIONS VOL. 2 begins on a somewhat subdued note. "I Got The..." finds Stone restraining herself for the most part, but this only heightens the intensity of the following "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People." The opening track feels sly, and Stone's restraint pays off for (what is to me,) one of the albums strongest tracks. The second track revs up the volume, and we find Stone cranking up the funk for another one of the album's highlights. Lead single "While You're Out Looking for Sugar" is fine, but it feels like a safe choice to promote the SOUL SESSIONS VOL. 2. The song is remarkably faithful to the original, so fans of The Honey Cone's rendition are in for a treat. Similarly, "Teardrop" is also a pretty faithful arrangement of Womack & Womack's song from the 1980's, but the energy and production here make it arguably better than the original.
Joss Stone's rendition of Broken Bells' "The High Road" injects the song with an emotional power that was sorely missing in the original. Stone's cover feels more of a reimagining here than it does a tone-for-tone cover -- it maintains the same gloomy atmosphere, but the intensity she brings towards the end of the song completely changes the tone of the song. Likewise, the covers of Eddie Floyd's "I Don't Want To Be With Anybody But You" and the Dells' "The Love We Had Stays On My Mind" are given a shot of raw emotional power thanks to Stone's vocals. And speaking of Stone's vocals, they truly shine here. The vocalist is able to nail the softer arrangements ("Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye") but bring passion in the louder ones. She's pretty versatile on this record, and her amazing voice holds this collection of songs together as a cohesive album. Similarly, the musicians at work here are first-class.
In a time when most artists are retreating towards electronics for new inspiration (I'm looking at you Norah Jones), Joss Stone's treatment of these classics feels like an irony-free breath of fresh air. Thanks to a great selection of songs, top-notch production, and live performances, THE SOUL SESSIONS VOL. 2 is a lively, energetic, and passionate love letter to the songs that have inspired Stone through the years. I would recommend this album to anyone who enjoys soul, and especially those who enjoys 2003's debut. Essential tracks to sample/download: "I Got The...," "(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People," and "The High Road." Be sure to not miss out on this (especially the Deluxe version).
(additional release information:)
The special deluxe edition of this album includes 4 bonus tracks: "First Taste of Hurt," "One Love in My Lifetime," "Nothing Takes the Place of You," and "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days." For me, these songs didn't quite live up to those that made it on the album, but these tracks are by no means mediocre. Fans of Stone owe it to themselves to by the Deluxe edition of the standard version or at least seek these tracks out.