Right before Christmas, Billboard Magazine gave kudos to Joss Stone for having the #1 Reggae Album of 2015. Since then Jamaicans have been grumbling on social media. I first heard about the whole mishaggus on this facebook post:
Well…I can understand why people are grumbling.
I first heard of Joss Stone when she covered The White Stripes and the end result was the sultry, groovy Fell In Love With A Boy. I really liked that single. So I’m like ‘ok chica, your name is on my radar’. But almost everything she dropped since then has not really impressed me. The includes that Super Duper Love song. The only other song she released that I found myself liking was another cover – her version of Nat King Cole‘s classic, L-O-V-E. So now I was like ‘great, she’s like UB40 of the soul world’…and she fell off my radar completely.
With that being said her latest album Water For Your Soul, her “reggae” effort, has her back on my radar. Now there’s definitely some songs here that I’m going to snag for my playlists, especially the opening track Love Me. This album is kinda hip; well produced; and it’s different. God knows it’s a treat to hear something non-formulaic these days. Even so, I would put Matisyahu’s debut, Shake Off The Dust…Arise! above this album if I had to compare the two on the basis of reggae execution. And I admit, that’s something that is hard to quantify.
That’s ok though. “Reggae” artists are allowed to branch out. So let’s talk a bit more about the music. Well it’s produced very well. The music is pretty solid. No ground breaking melodies or rhythms. In fact she borrows heavily from Jamaican classics (and what’s more authentic reggae than that?). The lyrics aren’t as strong as the music, and in true Joss Stone style, somehow the conviction in her voice is lacking. However in many ways Joss’s nice sounding and only slightly emotive voice actually fits nicely into this style of reggae. Just so many other modern Jamaican female reggae singers I guess…like Ce’Cile or Etana. In fact, if there was a category for ‘Top Female Reggae Artist of 2015’, I could get behind Joss joining that group.
But for ‘Reggae Album’…no. Just no. It’s just too bland. It’s like reggae for the coffeeshop crowd. How is that worthy of any type of recognition?
From the way I see it, there are two sides of the complaint. The one side is that Joss is an imitator and since she’s White, she just basically usurped the genre when she has no rights to it. While I can understand that gripe, it’s flimsy and doesn’t hold up well. Yes, reggae is firmly a product of the African diaspora. But then again, so is most popular music in the Western world. For reggae purists, Joss’s efforts are definitely “reggae lite” or maybe “reggae pop”…a la Big Mountain or something. I don’t think you can vilify someone for making a genre more mainstream and “pop-y”. You get in the music business in part to make money, so you do what you need to do. Can’t fault someone with that.
But the other side of the complaint is that if you want to apply a label to something, then what are your standards? I realize that Billboard is focused on album sales and chart positions. But a musician’s current fame and brand are going influence their record sales, no matter how good or bad that product is. For example if someone released a posthumous collection of drunk Michael Jackson doing karoke, it’s going to sell more than the best effort from the most talented no-name soul singer from Jacksonville, FL or the like. But then, do you call the drunk MJ album a pop album and consider it for those charts? Billboard should know this; and should have given that some consideration before choosing to consider Joss’s album.
In The End
Some Jamaicans, like Cocoa Tea choose to focus on the good in all of this. However even he stops short of calling Joss’s album a good record. For me, I think it’s a shame that Billboard paints such a broad brush, and it effectively took other native Jamaican reggae talent, like Chronixx, out of the running. I guess it is what it is. And in the end, perhaps it’s just further reinforcement of how important independent and underground music media outlets are. You need to have them on your radar in order to keep current on the real musical talents out there in the world.
I will say this, if Joss is hoping that I’ll buy any of her albums, she should stay on this reggae kick; because her soul records just weren’t cutting it for me. But I could bring myself to drop a few pennies on this 🙂