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Black Diamond
Angie Stone
El-Camel's Ratings:

joy sunbridge


Forget the reference to diamonds… this is what top-of-the-range silk would sound like if it could sing. Angie Stone's slinky fabric is cut from classic soul. The accoutrements and production values are overwhelmingly contemporary. However, right from the first bars of the sublime opening track - 'No More Rain (In This Cloud)' - as the languid string driven intro flows purposefully into a dangerously addictive chorus, meshing with vocals that soar and tease, an aura of enduring class permeates everything. There is respect toward, and a discernible weight of the past, that has echoes in the style of the album artwork and in her own personal appearance: the Angela Davis afro and clothes from Patti Labelle.

As the first ever-female rapper on Sugar Hill Records - through a varied CV that has touched vocal, writing and production duties with a select cast including: Lenny Kravitz, Mary J Blige, Mantronix and D'Angelo; her career has followed a path best described as fated. It is as if a hidden force has been propelling her to this moment. A momentum born from the combination of a naturally outstanding voice and a timeless inevitability - at least in hindsight: a happy juxtaposition that appears to be second nature for the best r&b talent.

She dips her mellow tones into the SWV / TLC pool - who doesn't in this genre - but the songs, 'Green Grass Vapours' and 'Visions' respectively, remain unequivocally her own through strength of character and performance. Most of the tracks answer to the description - 'low key.' But beyond the slow-burning embers of the music the lyrics tell a different story. There is the fire that can only come from a woman of genuine experience. 'Coulda Been You' is given substance by the pain - albeit at times merely hinted at - and expression in a voice that refuses to be boxed in by the seamless straight road of polished production. Her vocals are used sparingly and for maximum effect - as befits a precious stone: they hint at the lineage of earthy, unrestrained practicality given vent by the sistahs of the '60s soul reviews; in stark contrast to much of the barren look-at-my-range tricks of the Houston-Carey axis. Respect for history but no respect for histrionics. Which goes to prove the old adage - that less is more.

Upcoming single - 'Life Story' - has an intrinsic drama which is described by determined, don’t-mess-with-me vocals; an unravelling guitar funk interrupted by electric piano plateaux - which all seem to be rolling around together on an ellipsis heading toward an unavoidable emotional crescendo. This track, and the cash registered slow funk of 'Man Loves His Money' and the similarly urban entreaties of 'Love Junkie' - which would get her welcomed into the other Family Stone - have a welcome harder-edged soul to offset and enhance the delite of much of the rest of the album.

Angie Stone shines as bright as any diamond, though not in the harsh gaudiness that demands… look at me! Beyond the initial fears of a one-tone uniformity of approach comes a deliciously, gradual realisation that she is soulful and multi-faceted. Honed yes… and at times hard in attitude: she's gonna make up her own mind (as in bonus track - 'Heaven Help'). But, ultimately this Stone is not an unnecessary, highly ostentatious ornament. No one is taking the paste here.

michael white

Angie Stone: Black Diamond Arista CD-Album 07822-19092-2

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