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Album review: Joss Stone's 'Colour Me Free'

October 19, 2009 |  9:10 pm
Joss_stone_240 Joss Stone makes for an unlikely symbol of artistic defiance. Since she emerged in 2003 with a cutesy rendition of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl," this English soul singer has become a favorite of romantic-comedy music supervisors and the folks who put together the in-store mix at Starbucks. If your goal is inspiring the bonhomie required to make somebody spring for biscotti, she's your gal.

Yet here we have the second album in a row on which Stone declares her unwillingness to conform to anyone else's creative vision. In 2007, after a pair of tidy retro-R&B efforts, came the more free-spirited "Introducing Joss Stone," with a title that spoke for itself.

Two years later, the first track on "Colour Me Free" makes it clear that Stone still feels hemmed- in: "Don't tell me that I won't/ I can," she sings over a bass-heavy funk groove, "Don't tell me that I'm not/ I am." Beneath the sleek surfaces of Stone's work rage the stormy waters of self-definition.

In a strange twist, Stone produced "Colour Me Free" -- physical copies of which her American label is selling exclusively through Target -- with Jonathan Shorten and Connor Reeves, both of whom contributed to Stone's 2004 disc, "Mind, Body & Soul." That means, of course, that she's now collaborating with the very oppressors who necessitated her reintroduction in 2007. Tricky stuff, record-industry rebellion.

Whatever its convoluted back story, "Colour Me Free" succeeds about as well as Stone's other records: It's quite good in the up-tempo bits -- check out "Big Ole Game," featuring the incomparable Raphael Saadiq -- and a little soggy in the ballads.

-- Mikael Wood

Joss Stone
"Colour Me Free"
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

Photo: Joss Stone at Coachella in 2009. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times