Citizen Cope

The richness of "The Clarence Greenwood Recordings" takes a while to surface, mostly because Citizen Cope loves to dwell in slow, downcast grooves that communicate less-than-obvious emotions: longing, dissatisfaction, quiet frustration and hope tinged with old sadness. The strength of the disc -- Cope's second since his days in D.C.'s Basehead -- comes in its subtleties. Take the first single, "Bullet and a Target," which features tight drumming by local Paul "Buggy" Edwards. What initially sounds like a generic guitar/piano hip-hop track quickly gains tension and soul once Cope's politically charged vocals come in. He has less range than, say, '70s legend Bill Withers, but he has the same rubbery ability to push and pull a melody.

Cope -- Clarence Greenwood back when he attended Wilson High School -- fills his songs with mini-dramas, and his storytelling is often artfully restrained. "Pablo Picasso," with its minor-key, "one of us gonna end up on a stretcher" chorus, could be the theme music for every delusional perp on "Cops." But just when it seems hopelessly repetitive, Cope halts it and kicks in the gorgeous, sweeping "My Way Home."

Other successes: The bluesy, patient "Sideways," the lonely, Bob Marley-ish "D'Artagnan's Theme" and the breezy, relatively up-tempo "Hurricane Waters," which offers a rare respite from the disc's darker tones. After a while it becomes clear that Cope's reliance on the slow burn isn't a cop-out -- he's simply an earthy soul man who needs a little space to unburden his mind.

-- Joe Warminsky


Joss Stone

If you weren't exactly bowled over by the release last year of "The Soul Sessions," British teenage vocalist Joss Stone's gold-certified smash, you weren't alone. Apparently neither was Stone.

The precocious soul singer is now calling "Mind, Body & Soul" her "real debut," and it's not hard to understand why. "The Soul Sessions" certainly made for good copy, generating reams of articles about the then-16-year-old white girl from Devon, England, who channels soul music royalty. With the help of soul vets Betty Wright, Timmy Thomas and Benny Latimore, Stone celebrated her love for the music in a big, throaty voice that belied her youth. Yet listening to "Sessions" was rather like encountering a gifted karaoke singer -- entertaining, up to a point.

What makes "Mind, Body & Soul" different is the emergence of something previously hidden from view -- Stone's own personality. Because she had a hand in writing most of the songs on the album, collaborating with Wright, Motown master Lamont Dozier and other accomplished tunesmiths, she sounds more like herself this time around.

It helps that some of the lyrics allude to her lack of experience. "I'm stepping out into the great unknown," she announces on the album's opening track, the defiant ballad "Right to Be Wrong." Later, on "Killing Time," Stone confesses, "I know I may be young / and know nothing of this world," before bluntly dealing with a "first-class fool." "Don't Cha Wanna Ride" is sheer girlish flirtation ("A car this fine don't pass your way every day"), while "Spoiled," which Dozier co-penned, has a torchy, tailor-made innocence. Sure, Stone still sounds like she's mimicking her role models at times, but there's no mistaking her promise and growth.

-- Mike Joyce