In terms of pop music, originality is often a more vital consideration in the short term than it is years down the line. The Gap Band, for instance, obviously ripped off the Parliament-Funkadelic sound on many of its most successful songs, but when you're shaking booty two decades later to "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," such thievery doesn't mean a damn thing. That brings us to Stone, whose debt to classic soul artists is probably being paid off in monthly installments even as we speak. Yet those of you able to put such matters out of your mind will likely be plenty pleased by the cut of Black Diamond.
No shortage of familiar names pop up on Diamond's credit sheet, including A Tribe Called Quest veteran Ali Shaheed Muhammad, neo-soulster D'Angelo (with whom Stone collaborated on his fine Brown Sugar disc) and Lenny Kravitz, who's no stranger to the innovation-versus-imitation issue himself. But Stone's mellifluous voice, which is equally adept at gliding, scatting and stinging, is an impressive instrument that keeps the focus plainly on her. Granted, "Everyday [226K aiff]," which she co-wrote with D'Angelo, has a jazzy feel that too readily calls Erykah Badu to mind, and the strings that decorate the lovely "No More Rain (in This Cloud)" are overtly retro. But she delivers "Coulda Been You," a nyah-nyah tune directed at a former lover, with a subtlety that's wholly her own, and her cover of the blaxploitation-era Marvin Gaye composition "Trouble Man [234K aiff]" exhibits a similarly light touch. Although her allergy to histrionics and easy effects might initially make Stone seem like a weak sister, such a characterization is completely off-base, as a single listen to the funky, wah-wah laden "Man Loves His Money" ably shows. Rather, she exhibits a shrewdness and sophistication that may initially seem like modesty but eventually is revealed as strength. To put it another way, she may wear velvet gloves, but she still can deliver a helluva punch.
Stone hasn't transported rhythm and blues to places it's never been before. Instead, she's taken its verities, shaped them to her own design and delivered them with skill and style. Is anything wrong with that?
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