ANGIE STONE: The Art Of Love And War (Label: Stax)

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ANGIE STONE: The Art Of Love And War

Given her elevated status in contemporary soul, it’s hard to believe that this is only Angie Stone’s fourth attempt at a solo album – and yet, as the most erudite of soul fans will probably tell you, the 45-year-old South Carolina singer first came into the public eye way back in 1980 as a member of the Sugar Hill-signed hip-hop trio, The Sequence. After the demise of that short-lived group, Stone – who’s a gifted tunesmith as well as a deeply soulful singer – fronted another trio, Vertical Hold, who signed to A&M in the early ’90s and scored a Top 20 US R&B smash with ‘Seems You’re Much Too Busy.’ The group folded and Stone eventually signed to Arista in 1999, where she issued her debut platter ‘Black Diamond.’ Since then, Stone has never looked back, though sadly health problems – diabetes and a more recent diagnosis of congenital heart failure – have cast a shadow over her success. Despite this, the chanteuse-turned-actress sounds in fine fettle on this 14-track debut set for the revitalised Stax label. ‘Take Everything In’ is a stunning mid-tempo opener with an addictive chorus that showcases Stone’s sensual lower register. Miami soul veteran Betty Wright has a telling cameo on the infectious ‘Baby,’ which utilises a dusty Curtis Mayfield sample. Ballad-wise, there’s a clutch of strong cuts, headed by the haunting ‘Make It Last.’ Even better, perhaps, is the summer-vibed ‘Sit Down,’ and Jill Scott-style ‘Pop Pop.’ On the uptempo front, the most salient tune is ‘My People,’ an anthemic black pride disco groove featuring a cameo from James Ingram. The album closes on a euphoric high with the gently uplifting ‘Happy Being Me,’ featuring lush background harmonies counterpointed by plangent harmonica fills. A superior soul album.
(CW) 4/5