It’s easy to forget that Joss Stone is still only 22 years old. This is her fourth album, and given all of her achievements to date – debut album The Soul Sessions is certified triple platinum in the UK, and its follow-up Mind, Body & Soul topped the domestic album chart – one can be forgiven for assuming the singer’s been enjoying legal drinking rights stateside for rather longer than she has. Colour Me Free! balances this early success by failing to match the quality of said releases – but this shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s a terrible record.
Stone peaked early, and this 13-track collection – recorded without her label’s knowledge in a fraction of the time eaten up by the gestation of past long-players – is a serviceable collection of funk-kissed and pop-savvy soul numbers that expose their maker’s songwriting immaturity by exuding the sense that contentment with each song was enough, rather than a tingling sensation followed by near-orgasmic outbursts of incredulity in response to a final mix. That it was written and recorded in such a short space of time – a week, reportedly – gives Colour Me Free! an attractive vibrancy in its actual performances, but the lack of any truly standout moments renders it far from memorable.
Once the well-reported label politics surrounding this release are taken out of the equation, leaving the songs alone to maintain audience interest, Colour Me Free! loses its footing. Free Me, lead single and album opener, struts with a brassy confidence as Stone underlines her intentions to, basically, do the opposite of everything she’s been told – but the absence of a catchy chorus leaves it floundering, more the work of a showy youngster than a multi-million-selling pop artist (of course, it’s actually both). And this strangely amateur atmosphere permeates almost every second of this album – at times endearing, but also puzzling. After all, Stone absolutely nailed her first two collections, with 2007’s patchy Introducing the exception rather than the rule.
Which goes to suggest that she’s better, despite her protestations, when riding shotgun on a label’s chosen path. It’s a hard verdict to swallow, given early promise, but unless Stone realises she needs more help than she’s had here (even factoring in guest turns from rapper Nas and the silken-voiced Raphael Saadiq), she’s destined to become as forgettable as this for-fans-only collection. Time, at least, is on her side. --Mike Diver
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Joss Stone - Color Me Free - cod:5628