“All the mistakes I’ve made/I wish they would all go away/It’s as if they/were tailor made for me.” Thus opens Joss Stone’s eighth album, Never Forget My Love. Though she’s singing about love and broken hearts, in some respects she could well be singing about her career to date, which—though she’s sold, according to Wikipedia, 14 millions albums worldwide—has never lived up to the promise of her stellar 2003 debut, The Soul Sessions.
Until now, that is.
Partnering with Dave Stewart for the first time since their 2011 collaboration on the flawed but worthwhile LP1, she’s crafted an album that’s accented by one sublime song after another. As a whole, as I tweeted yesterday, it channels Dusty Springfield circa her classic mid-‘60s period, though the production flourishes sometimes conjure Isaac Hayes and Minnie Riperton (“la, la, la, la”), too. “Breaking Each Other’s Heart,” the lead track, is a good example of the Dusty vibe. Strings support a seductive groove that sounds plucked from the past, though it’s not, while Stone emotes with the finesse of a veteran prizefighter who knows when to jab and when to throw a knockout blow. Like the album as a whole, a larger-than-life, timeless quality emanates throughout; it’s a fabulous song.
“No Regrets,” another highlight, both echoes and confirms that sentiment. It sounds like a long-lost Bacharach-David composition, just about, though—like the other songs here—it’s a Stone-Stewart cowrite. In short, it balances old-school pop with old-school soul, with the former coming by way of the Herb Alpert-like horns and the latter coming from Stone’s vocals. It also sports a subject, of casting out a negative force from one’s life, that’s as old as time yet, sadly, always timely. As with the other tracks, if you squint your ears you’ll almost hear Dionne Warwick, the 5th Dimension and Duffy singing backup beside Dusty. It’s the type of tune that takes up residence in the brain long after the music has faded.
The same’s true for the other tracks, which also take their stylistic cues from the songs of long ago. “You’re My Girl,” a catchy ode to friendship, could well be an Allen Toussaint-penned Irma Thomas outtake, while I wouldn’t be surprised if “Does It Have to Be Today,” about longing for one more day with a departing lover, was borrowed lock, stock and barrel from a previously unknown Stax/Volt collection unearthed in a used-record shop in Memphis; about the only thing missing from the track is the pops and clicks that are part and parcel of dusty vinyl. The same is true for “You Couldn’t Kill Me,” a dramatic tour de force about escaping an abusive relationship.
Nothing quite beats the addictive and joyous “Oh to Be Loved by You,” however, which at this stage is my favorite track. Accented by an infectious melody that’s equalled by Stone’s light-filled vocals, it’s a surefire mood-turner. It’s guaranteed to take that frown and turn it upside down, in other words.
The mention of Duffy up above came for a reason, I should add. Never Forget My Love is very much a stylistic throwback akin to Duffy’s timeless (to my ears, at least) 2008 debut, aka the “bag of songs” known as Rockferry. Unlike her past albums, in which Stone tried to meld her influences with a more modern sound, here she’s fully embracing the old—and, in so doing, is actually making it new again. (Or something like that.) Which is all to say, as I’ve noted above, echoes of the past can be discerned throughout, but that’s all they are—echoes. The 10 tracks aren’t pastiches, homages or appropriations, but the real deal. These are soulful and dramatic wonders sure to pull you—or, at least, me—back time and again.
The track list: