Joss Stone, Dave Stewart Get Loose at Blackbird
Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson
SINGER'S LATEST IS AN INTIMATE, SOULFUL SET
At the ripe old age of 24, Joss Stone is already a wily record industry veteran. The gritty and passionate British singer made her initial splash in her mid-teens with the trans-Atlantic hit album The Soul Sessions, which played beautifully into England’s long love affair with American R&B, and in retrospect helped pave the way for later UK “blue-eyed soul” sensations such as Amy Winehouse and Adele. More chart successes followed in Britain and America. She’s been nominated for numerous Grammy Awards and always seems to be available for high-profile benefit concerts when they crop up, from Band Aid to Live 8 to Live Earth, and many more. She’s nearly as famous for her collaborations as her own records, having worked with everyone from Melissa Etheridge (a heart-stopping duet on two Janis Joplin tunes at the Grammys) to Herbie Hancock, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Common, Jeff Beck and countless others. What could be considered her ultimate collaboration—the group SuperHeavy, featuring Stone, Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman—is hitting the stores this month.
Stone’s also been in the biz long enough to have had a dispute with her last record label, EMI, over a variety of issues. After much legal wrangling, she managed to free herself (though EMI will be releasing Super Duper Hits: The Best of Joss Stone in late September), and, feeling newly liberated, has taken a slight left turn on her latest album, LP1 (on her own Stone’d label), which was co-produced by the singer and longtime friend and musical associate Dave Stewart, and recorded in Nashville at Blackbird Studios in less than a week using local players. No, she hasn’t gone country—the album is still brimming with characteristically soulful performances (maybe more Memphis, in some cases, than past records). But the change in scenery and musicians and the relaxed way the album was cut resulted in a record that feels as if it may be her most intimate to date.
The story of LP1 actually begins several months before Stone showed up at Blackbird—with the recording of Dave Stewart’s latest album, The Blackbird Diaries. In June 2010, Stewart flew to Nashville to meet with Blackbird owner/engineer John McBride and his superstar wife, Martina, about a proposed television show called Malibu Country. They met at the studio, went out for dinner and drinks, “and then we went back to the studio and listened to some music in a couple of rooms, and Dave got to experience a little of the Blackbird thing,” John McBride says. “He had already arranged the following day to have a writing session [at Blackbird] with Martina, Hillary Lindsey, who’s an extremely successful songwriter in Nashville, and a guy named Gordie Sampson. So the four of them got together and started a couple of songs. Dave flew out the day after that, and then I get an email from him that said, ‘John, I want to make my first solo album in 13, 14 years. Please put a band together for me. I want you to engineer it. I want to call it The Blackbird Sessions and here’s the album cover.’”
Stewart told McBride to “think along the lines of Neil Young’s Harvest” in forming the band, so he started by calling one of Young’s favorite drummers, Chad Cromwell, and then built the group around that anchor, and included such Nashville stalwarts as bassist Michael Rhodes, A-list guitarist Tom Bukovac (“because he’s a little left-of-center and incredibly tasty,” McBride says), Mike Rojas on keyboards and versatile guitarist/steel master Dan Dugmore, “who can play anything and is the sweetest and coolest guy on Planet Earth.”
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