R&B

Mind, Body & Soul

CRITIC'S CHOICE
[STARS 3.5]

A funny thing happened to Joss Stone on the way to finishing her first album of original material: The 17-year-old British belter recorded The Soul Sessions, a critically acclaimed collection of vintage R&B covers that was released last year and heightened anticipation for this, what was initially intended to be Stone's debut. And Mind, Body & Soul more than fulfills the promise that Stone showed on The Soul Sessions, revealing the singer to R&B also be a talented songwriter (she had a hand in writing all but three tracks) who soars even higher with her own material. Stone smartly retains some of her collaborators from The Soul Sessions, including keybroardist Timmy Thomas ("Why Can't We Live Together?"), '70s singer Betty Wright, who cowrote six tunes and sings backup, and the Roots' Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who plays drums on the lush lullaby "Sleep Like a Child." But whereas Stone felt more like a featured vocalist getting schooled by music vets on The Soul Sessions, this is clearly her baby. With a gritty, blues-hued voice that belies her Britney-esque looks, she shines on retro-R&B cuts like the gospel-charged "Security" and the funky first single "You Had Me," as well as reggae-ish numbers like "Less Is More." Lyrically she displays a bit of teenage rebelliousness on "Young at Heart" and "Right to Be Wrong" ("I've got a right to be wrong/ My mistakes will make me strong"). Best, though, is the classic love ballad "Spoiled," which she cowrote with Motown great Lamont Dozier and his son Bo, who also happens to be Stone's beau.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Spoiled"

HIP-HOP

Nelly Sweat/Suit

Sweat: [STARS 2.5]
Suit: [STARS 2.5]

"I done got so damn cocky I took that Band-Aid off," raps Nelly on "Na-Nana-Na," referring to the trademark bandage that he wore on his cheek but that has been retired since his last studio outing, 2002's Nellyville, which sold a whopping 6 million copies. Indeed, to show off his versatility and crossover appeal, the immodest emcee has simultaneously released two new albums, the party-pumping Sweat and the smooth, chilled-out Suit. Although both CDs have their moments, some judicious editing would have made for a stronger single disc. As it is, however, it's fairly lukewarm in "herre."

Sweat is the more typical Nelly disc, with catchy club jams like the bounce track "Na-Nana-Na" and the Neptunes-produced "Flap Your Wings," which boasts a percolating jungle groove. But Nelly doesn't work up much perspiration on cuts like the bombastic "Heart of a Champion."

Suit finds Nelly trading rapping for singing (well, almost) on tracks like the hit first single "My Place," which features Jaheim crooning the chorus from Teddy Pendergrass's 1979 ballad "Come Go with Me." But Nelly's corny collaboration with Tim McGraw on "Over and Over" is a big knock to the hip-hopper's street cred.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Flap Your Wings"

Green Day, American Idiot Pop-punk's patriarchs roar back onto the scene with this, their most bitingly political work.

Anita Baker, My Everything After 10 years away, the Songstress returns with another enrapturing album of jazz-kissed soul.

The Thrills, Let's Bottle Bohemia This Dublin band does college rock at its best, with music so peppy it fairly hops out of your hands.

Alan Jackson, What I Do With his well-aged voice and well-varied material, the 2003 CMA Entertainer of the Year evokes the great Merle Haggard on a CD of rare accomplishment.

Elvis Costello, Fire Delivery Man/Il Sogno The prolific Costello drops two stellar discs: Delivery Man, on which he races through a mad decathlon of genres, and the beautiful orchestral album II Sogno.

LL Cool J Now that LL has notched 11 albums in 19 years (his latest, DEFinition, was released in August), maybe one of those L's should officially stand for "longevity." Here the rap star, 36, looks back on some of his biggest hits.

"I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT MY RADIO" (1985) I used to walk up and down the block with a boom box on my shoulder. Now the iPod and the portable CD player have replaced that. But it's the same vibe.

"I NEED LOVE" (1987) I was single back then. We all get lonely; people have times when they're looking for love, and their search for love gets them down. And I was feeling that.

"AROUND THE WAY GIRL" (1990) It's about loving the girl next door. I've always preferred the girl next door to some star.

"MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT" (1990) It was coming off the Walking with a Panther album, which didn't succeed as much as I would have liked. My grandmother said, "Get out there and knock them out. You can do better." So I dug deeper and ended up with a Grammy. Grandma had the right idea.

"ALL I HAVE" (2003) I met up with J.Lo at the VH1 Fashion Awards, and we just went to the studio and wrote it on the spot. I wanted to make a song about not giving up, because when [couples] go through something, they immediately want to part ways. But it wasn't about me and [my wife] Simone, not at all.

"HEADPRUNG" (2004) It's about that euphoria, when you're up in the club, music blasting, lights flashing, and you're going crazy. Of course I still do that. How could I make it if I didn't?

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Sona Charaipotra.