“This is really gonna happen!” came an excited voice behind me, from a sea of people all there in anticipation of one of Ottawa Folk Fest’s biggest acts to take the stage. At 8pm on Sunday night, Joss Stone came out to greet the crowd, dressed in a full length summery dress, looking every bit a Guinevere goddess in her bare feet. She flashed a warm smile, seemed genuinely overwhelmed at the welcoming reception and playfully threw her mane of hair back in a bout of laughter. Then the first chords began and like a chameleon changing colour, she locked herself into the persona of passionate soul singer, with her potent rendition of Joe Simon’s “The Chokin’ Kind”. Her powerful band would ebb and flow through a series of R&B, funk, gospel, and soul hits, brought to completion by her two formidable backing vocalists.
At only 27, Joss Stone has already achieved an enormously successful career well beyond her years. From a young age, she was influenced by strong female singers like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer and Whitney Houston. At 13 she won a competition on BBC television’s talent show, Star For A Night, which led her to other televised appearances. Her dynamic, mature, smoky and soulful vocals caught the attention of record executives and by 2001, would sign with London-based label, S-Curve Records. She was only 16 when she released her debut album, The Soul Sessions in 2003, which garnered her multi-platinum sales.
Since then, the whirlwind would continue with heavy global touring, a steady stream of televised performances and various acting roles in TV, film and corporate advertisement. There would be five more albums, including one she co-wrote and produced with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. As a side project, she partnered up with Stewart, Mick Jagger, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman, to form the group, SuperHeavy in 2011.
Stone is currently working on her seventh album, which she says will contain more hip-hop, reggae and gospel flavours. Her Total World Tour, which began in April 2014, has her visiting shows in 204 countries and will take a few years to complete.
Tonight, however, she took us all on a soulful ride through many of her hits, including “Stoned Out Of My Mind”, “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” and my personal favourite, one she saved for the end, “Right To Be Wrong”, a slower ballad that left the audience breathless, especially during her pause at the end that let the silence play out for a suspended moment.
The effect she had on the crowd was quite powerful. Every song was sung with a driven inner passion projected freely and presented with pure heart and soul. Her voice has matured further into a thicker and stronger one, with her prime years yet to come. I was left in the lingering influence of her music, her aura and that voice, which had me singing all the way home.