The R&B world didn't need another Snoop Dogg cameo, but Angie Stone somehow decided that the ubiquitous rapper was essential to the success of "I Wanna Thank Ya," the leadoff track and first radio single from "Stone Love," her third disc. The slip-up, though, is quickly rectified.
The Snoop-filled summertime fluff quickly gives way to the sassy "My Man," which does plenty with a terse bass line, some no-frills percussion and understated harmonies by British act Floetry. If "I Wanna Thank Ya" doesn't establish Stone's theme for the disc, "My Man" says it all: Find the way to her heart -- even by simply being available -- and her love will be an immovable object.
Unlike some of her neo-soul contemporaries (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott), Stone is neither deliberately cryptic nor patently vulnerable. (There's a reason Broadway chose her to fill the role of Big Mama Morton in "Chicago.") "Stone Love" is straight-up relationship music, with grooves that hark back to simpler times (mostly the '70s) and lyrics that dwell in the nuances of romance. It's nothing new for the Columbia, S.C., native -- the same formula worked on her two previous discs, 2001's "Mahogany Soul" and 1999's "Black Diamond" -- but both of those efforts could've used some editing.
"Stone Love," however, offers a succession of sharp, catchy tracks that emit nothing but confidence. Beyond Snoop, the guest stars only enhance the mission: The gritty Anthony Hamilton is the perfect foil on "Stay for a While," adding a little unprocessed sugar to Stone's sweet, multi-layered vocals. And Betty Wright -- one of Stone's idols -- gently guides the hook-laden "That Kind of Love" into a musical zone that's more than just lover's pop.
On her own, Stone is more likely to address men who are either mildly unattainable or just plain complicated. "You're Gonna Get It" isn't about somebody who's due for a smackdown -- it's a throwback slow jam about a respectable guy who doesn't have "too many women." Over strings and orchestral percussion, Stone coos lines like "I gotta change my style just a little or a lot / Let me know so I can get it right" and "Tell me what to do / Just to be with you." But these aren't the pinings of a rookie-league lover; Stone actually sounds empowered by the thought of giving herself over to a worthy man.
The narrative of "Come Home" is a little more melodramatic. The male in question has been gone about five years -- presumably in jail -- and Stone breaks the news that she was pregnant with his child before he left. "Live with me / Maybe we can start a family," she sings matter-of-factly, adding, "It really doesn't matter that you've been gone . . . a promise is a promise."
Again there's little question about who's in charge. Stone may be the one doing the pleading, but the juice is with her -- the unspoken message is that she has love to spare. That's one of R&B's classic conceits, of course, but in Stone's hands it's an all-day, everyday kind of thing.