Irony alert: In 1972, 17-year-old Miami singer Betty Wright set fire to the R&B and pop charts (peaking at two and six, respectively) with her swaggering slice of cautionary funk, "Clean Up Woman." Fast forward to 2003: Ms. Wright -- after TV talk show hosting and singing backup for David Byrne, Erykah Badu, and J-Lo -- produced the debut album by 16-year-old UK old school soul girl-wonder Joss Stone. Long unavailable (at least in America), Wright's second album Hard To Stop is now on CD, showing us where Stone learned her lessons. This is smoldering, Southern groove strongly reminiscent of the Memphian Hi Records sound (Al Green, Ann Peebles) but with a higher quotient of funk. Her sumptuous, assertive, gospel-based voice transforms Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" into the soul-strut anthem it could've been, and elegantly rides the undulating, slightly more pop-oriented melody of "We The Two Of Us," virtually a what-if collaboration between Bacharach and David and Philly soul wizards Gamble and Huff. And I dare you to play the stealthy, sultry, overtones-of-Sly Stone title track but once. Go on, I dare you.
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