Joss Stone's Soul Trip 

The British pop star talks about growing up and the progression that led to her latest album.

"No, no, no, I would never do that," insists twenty-year-old British soul singer Joss Stone in the same sweet, gentle voice that belies her Aretha Franklin-grade pipes. "I don't know why people say that. What a terrible thing to say."

She's referring to how journalists across the pond have latched onto a few comments she made while promoting her third album, Introducing Joss Stone, and as a result have taken to interpreting the title as an open dismissal of her first two offerings, 2003's collection of covers, The Soul Sessions — which includes her much-hullabalooed take on the White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Boy" — and her first album of original material, 2004's Mind, Body, & Soul. "How can I shrug off, you know, my learning?" Stone asks. "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," she continues, a little salt and vinegar creeping into that voice.

On the surface, the black-and-purple-haired chanteuse may be as adorable and kindhearted as her smile suggests, but mess with her, and she's not afraid to bite back. Maybe that's the origin of her preternatural vocals on The Soul Sessions, so beyond her then-teenage years — the little white girl who likes to perform barefoot has more soul in her shower warm-up than most everyone she might call a peer.

"With album two, I started writing a little and became more involved," she says of the more funky Mind, Body, & Soul, which helped marry traditional soul sensibilities to pop a lot more successfully than neo-soul artists like John Legend or Jill Scott have managed. She wasn't out to change the world, but Stone did recognize a deficit of fun and, well, funk in the genre of late, and set out to fill the void.

"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?" she says.

That's where Introducing Joss Stone comes in. "Everything on this album, I meant it, every single second of it," she says — hence the title. "I meant it on the last one, but I was singing in certain directions and some of those directions I didn't really like. Sometimes it felt forced and I was like, 'No, I hate this. It sounds like shit, and I want nothing to do with it.'"

Introducing Joss Stone thus became her "test." "We should test ourselves," she says. "Could I do it without leaning on someone? Or did I need to find something else to do? This album, it's like me finding out whether this is for me or not for me."

So is this, the music biz, for her?

"I think I like it," she says, laughing. "I think it's for me."

Stone hit the studio in 2006 to record Introducing with super-producer Raphael Saadiq — Lauryn Hill, Common, and even soccer great (and pretty scary actor) Vinnie Jones also contributed. The result is her most mature album yet, especially compared to its more buoyant and, well, emotionally simpler predecessor.

Altogether, it's a much richer tapestry of internal expression, as young as it is sexual — on "Tell Me 'Bout It," when she sings, "I need a little lovin' at least two times a day," she's not going on about playful snuggles. Hell, the cover even features the artist semi-nude and adorned with body paint. This means Joss Stone is — as much as we hate to quote Britney — not a girl, not yet a woman, but comfortable with the confusion.

"Do I think I'm more adult now?" she asks aloud. "I hope so." Then, more confidently: "Yeah, I grew up a bit. I hope I'm more mature now.

"But I'm not going to say I'm more emotional," she adds. "You get less and less and less because you grow jaded. You get more at odds with the world. You're not willing to let it flow with you. When you're younger, you're more open. That's what's sad about adults."

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