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Joss Stone has found unconditional love, and she’s sharing it with the world. Her lover has no lips to kiss, no eyes that shine, no smile that says, “Welcome home.” Instead, her beau hits her heart to a depth that cannot be measured. When she’s looking for fun, this love makes her dance. When she’s sad, it provides the greatest comfort. It takes her places she’s never been, is always dependable and she has given herself to it completely. The love she speaks of has the ability to affect disposition, change moods and increase appreciation. “Music is my Mr. Right,” Joss says with a smile.

The August sun is steamy in south Texas. Sweat beads are like liquid stickers attached to faces in the crowd. The stage at the Austin City Limits music festival is even hotter this year, as Joss Stone and her bare feet grace it. She’s slender and sexy in a blue and white sundress. The bright purple hair and nose ring she’s sporting seem perfect for the party. Her backup singers begin with an enchanting harmony that’s as powerful as a polished Baptist choir. Dressed to the nines, they help usher in Stone’s voice.

The first word out of her mouth is an “Oooh” that makes everyone “Ahhh.” There’s a smoky sensuality to her sound, with range and command from Aretha-like pipes. Reincarnated rhythm and musical maturity ooze out of her funky, youthful soul. Stone struts from one side of the stage to the other as she begins a sultry version of “Jet Lag.” Joss’s nose crinkles and her hands flutter as she hits the high notes of her runs. “I think I’m melting. Thank God for hairclips,” she pants after the song while tying her purple locks in a bun. Her band keeps the energy going, breaking into a Sugar Hill Gang remix of “Super, Duper Love” as tens of thousands of red-faced fans clap above their heads like a gigantic worship service. Joss’s hips groove to the guitar as her voice makes love to music.

Her sound is so sophisticated that it’s easy to forget she’s only 20 years old. Born Joscelyn Stoker in Dover, England, her affair with music began on a popular BBC singing show at age 14. That one song was all it took. An agent scooped her up, and two years later she had her first American record deal. Immediately, she earned Grammy nominations, became the Gap Girl and shared stages with James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Melissa Etheridge and so many more. Despite the success, Joss was learning the record business the hard way. Her first album was full of covers and she felt tricked into recording them all. The second was more Joss, but she still felt musically manipulated by her handlers. She’s hired and fired four managers over the years and now does much of the business side herself.

While all this was going on, Stone sold nine million albums and became a household name. “I believe those two albums and the way they were done helped me out so much,” she says, “because people got to hear my voice, which is cool and got to understand that I’m really into soul music, and that I really like to feel what I’m doing.” She likens her third album to a coming out party. “This one I had every single freedom to create something and nobody asked for anything different.” Hence its title: “Introducing Joss Stone.” It’s her diary to the world, and she says the theme throughout it is music. “I know it’s very simple, but to me it’s more than that,” Joss says. “When I say music, it’s really the love of my life.” She says the realization smacked her in the face while writing the album in Barbados. “I think everybody that is in this world goes through life looking for their love, looking for the other half… I know I’m young and haven’t had much of a life, but can you find (true love) in a person? I don’t think so. I haven’t found the unconditional love in any human being – it’s all conditional. But with music, it’s unconditional; it’s the love of my life.”

Stone dresses like a hippie and acts like a gypsy. She spent a majority of her teenage years on the road, and admits she has no real place to call home. She dated a record producer eight years her senior and it ended badly. Since then, she’s been linked to others in the music industry and even Prince William – a rumor her camp denies. Back on stage in Austin, it’s becoming more and more clear that relationships are not her cup of tea. Introducing her hit “You Had Me,” Stone says, “This song is about a bastard. I’ll let the song speak for itself.” At first she smiles, then the anger boils up from somewhere in her gut. Pain shows on her face but is quickly overcome by the redemption in her inflection. The song ends with a raucous, “Taking it back… I’m taking it back… taking back my life.” With a tug, she lets her hair down and shares an exhale with the crowd that seems to relate to her struggles. She doesn’t sing as much from the heart as through it, knowing that sometimes a song is all it takes to mend life’s wounds. Joss Stone’s voice is a gift, her love for music is unconditional, and this Austin audience won’t soon forget the day she shared them both. Covered in sweat, she ends her set by throwing out a dozen white roses.

Written by: Ben Bamsey

October 2007


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