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Like a Rolling Stone

Twenty-year-old British soul phenom Joss Stone sings with a quiet but powerful strength that epitomizes what the French meant when they came up with the word chanteuse. With three hit records under her belt, it´s hard to believe how much she´s accomplished in such a relatively brief career. None of it seems to amaze Stone herself. Asked when exactly she realized that music would be her livelihood, she deadpans: ¨Well, to be honest, I don´t think nothing else would suffice.¨ Not the usual disposable answer (like, ugh, ¨I´ve always known¨). Stone is full of bold surprises; like her soulfully preternatural voice, it´s what has enthralled audiences since her 2003 debut.

¨This is something I´m doing right now, and I really enjoy it,¨ she continues. ¨Every little girl wants to be a singer I wanted to ever since I heard any woman sing. I thought, let me try to move people. That was one of my missions, but only one of them. I have many others.¨ Her missions, she says, include working with animals and children and painting, all of which give her that opportunity to move people. ¨I don´t want to limit myself,¨ she says.

When Stone says this, she sounds absolutely sincere. It might be the last naive throes of childhood, to think that adults who make bajillions off their art would ever give it up for other pursuits; whether it ever really happens, right now Stone believes it will. As we chat, Stone is on a bus headed to Portland; she´s in the middle of a U.S. tour promoting her latest album, Introducing Joss Stone. Many find the title a bit perplexing. Didn´t Stone introduce herself to America back in 2004 with an Aretha Franklin-style cover of the White Stripes´ ¨Fell in Love with a Boy¨ (off her debut The Soul Sessions)? And how about that debut in her native U.K. the year before that? Some critics across the pond have even gone so far as to suggest that the title and a few accompanying statements is an attempt to disregard Soul Sessions and 2004´s Mind, Body & Soul and, consequently, the legion of international fans she´s amassed.

¨No, no, no, I would never do that,¨ she says, her voice contorting into a sort of plea. ¨I don´t know why people say that. How can I shrug off, you know, my learning? That´s my education, my whole reason why I´m doing this. Basically, album one, that was the first lesson I had, because all I did was sit there and listen and learn because I didn´t know what the fuck I was doing.¨

There´s a learning curve here, she suggests. ¨I knew what I wanted, but I didn´t quite know how to create it or achieve it. With album two, I started writing a little and became more involved. And then, when I graduated, I thought, Can I take everything I´ve learned and experienced and create something by myself without leaning on anybody?´ This album, it´s like me finding out whether this [music] is for me or not for me.¨

And is it?

¨I think I like it,¨ she says, laughing. ¨I think it´s for me.¨

That still begs the question: Why a title that implies her earlier work was not entirely the Joss Stone we get on Introducing? ¨I´m very vocal and I´ve been writing since I was 14,¨ she explains. ¨But everything on this album, I meant it, every single second of it. I meant it on the last one, but I was singing in certain directions, and some of those directions I didn´t really like. This time, I´ve made sure every note I love, and nobody could stop me from doing it.¨

Stone, whose soul-meets-hip-hop style was further magnified by bringing in super-producer Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné! fame to co-produce with her, does finally find a voice all her own on Introducing; the tracks feel more intimate and, as soul should, sexual, even when sex isn´t the subject. Then again, that could simply have something to do with Stone´s being old enough this time around for her fans to actually imagine her having sex, with tracks like ¨Tell Me ´Bout It¨ on which she sings she ¨needs a little lovin´ at least two times a day.¨ Whatever the case, she´s growing up.

¨Yeah, I grew up a bit,¨ she says. ¨I hope I´m more mature now. But I´m not going to say I´m more emotional now. I think I´m less emotional now, to be honest. I think the most emotional I was, I was like 7.¨ For a second, it´s fun to imagine Stone as a wild child, which isn´t that far from where she is now.

¨When you´re younger, you´re more open,¨ Stone says with more than a tinge of sadness for what´s to come in life, mixed with frustration for critics who like to bash her for singing about things she´s supposedly too young to know about. ¨That´s what´s sad about adults.¨

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Cole Haddon