This is Joss Stone’s third CD release in less than four years — so why that ”Introducing” in the title? The 19-year-old British soul belter is making a statement about getting out from under the thumb of her label Svengalis, who presumably have been stifling the poor girl’s muse. The 2007-model Joss — the one she considers to be the real Joss — has a vampy new image (behold the shocking pink hair!) and, more notably, a new mentor, producer, and neo-soul stalwart, Raphael Saadiq (the Roots, Common). He brings a strong focus to Introducing Joss Stone, blending the digital crispness of modern R&B with Stone’s preferred flavors of retro: swooping Motown-style strings, girl-group background vocals, gutbucket soul guitar. Songs like the loping, summery ”Girl They Won’t Believe It” and the first single, ”Tell Me ‘Bout It,” hover pleasingly between eras, neither slavishly revivalist nor desperate to keep up with the Beyoncés and Ciaras.
The sonic texture is compelling, yet few tracks have melodies that stick; these are more grooves than songs. And that murkiness extends to Stone herself. She’s an agile vocalist with a nice, husky tone, and she has good taste in old records. But who is she exactly? A schoolgirl in the dizzy throes of puppy love? A wounded woman of the world? She tries to play both roles, but she doesn’t fully commit to either. A lot of things are forgivable from a would-be soul diva — especially one so young — but a dullish personality is not one of them. Three albums in, we’re still waiting for a proper introduction. B-