Let me start by saying how consistently delighted I am by the quality of the comments left by Audiofile readers. Time and time again, you present compelling arguments, reveal new information, and do it all with wit and intelligence -- and only a tiny handful of you seem to think I'm an idiot. I'll take it!
Not surprisingly, there were some interesting responses to Tuesday's Joss Stone post that deserve to be highlighted. I've excerpted them below. On the whole, it seemed as if the issue of cultural appropriation was of slightly less interest to you than whether Joss Stone is any good. There were also a fair number of comments suggesting that the whole topic was unworthy of discussion, to which I can only say that there's gotta be something about cultural appropriation and "the right to sing" that has kept it on the radar since the days of Elvis. But enough of me, let's see what you had to say.
-- David Marchese
Soul music may have a black face, but as anyone who reads Peter Guralnick's "Sweet Soul Music" knows, it's also the product of white promoters, white backup musicians, white songwriters, etc. It's an amazing art form that would have been impossible without cross-cultural collaboration.
Does Joss Stone sound "too black"?
What a silly question.
Did Elvis? Mick Jagger? (Well, maybe ...)
What about Mick Hucknall, of Simply Red? Did Billie Holiday phrase too much like sax player Lester Young? Did Frank Sinatra phrase too much like Billie Holiday? Does Van Morrison phrase too much like both of them? Did Picasso and Georges Braque paint too much like each other in the early stages of cubism? Do any of these questions have any value whatsoever?
Questions like this are pointless, really. Joss Stone sounds like she sounds. It's her choice, and I'm willing to accept that. If I get tired of her singing, I'll simply stop listening.
Those who ask questions like this either are trying to graft a poorly fitting outside agenda on something unrelated or have too much free time and too little respect for the choice a performer makes about his or her own musical approach.
And please, please, please save the whole silly, pointless "white privilege" trope for Sociology 101.
-- Alan Lloyd
Lord knows, white Americans usually take about 10 years to appropriate a black style, cleaning it, enunciating and rubbing the street/urban out of it. (Backstreet Boys are a rip-off of Boyz II Men and New Edition; Britney, Christine, etc. are rip-offs of Pebbles, Toni Braxton, etc. from the '80s; Beyonce/Destiny's Child are softened TLC/En Vogue; and so it goes.)
What Stone may be missing is what most great American soul artists have always had: a true steeping. Not just listening to a truckload of records -- whose parents, brother, etc., didn't play you a lot of albums? -- but taking advantage of a network of Friday-night club dates, chitlin-circuit acts, touring headliners, gospel choirs, and a host of like-minded, working musicians.
It all comes down to this: if a reviewer (or anyone else) hates the music that he is writing (ranting) about, or if the music is just too uncool for him to like (as Stone is in some hipster circles), then the musicians responsible "stole" the sound from someone much more brilliant who came before them. The audacity!
But if the reviewer actually likes the music, then those same musicians were merely "influenced" by artists of the past. How wise of them, how creative, to use the sounds of yore in the creation of their unique, modern vision.
Think of John Fogerty's "Southern swamp" drawl in his Creedence days, coming out of the throat of a guy who, at the time, had never been outside of the northern half of California.
Think of Bob Dylan's purposeful off-key bray, crafted in tribute to his dying idol Woody Guthrie -- Dylan would later claim that the more conventional way he sang on "Nashville Skyline" was his "real" voice, and that the "Dylan style" was a deliberate attempt to sing like Guthrie in his dying days.
Possibly you can fault Joss Stone for being derivative, yes. But not for failing to sound "not British enough." Puh-lease. Think of her as delayed payback for the Beau Brummels, if you must.
-- say la
When it comes to questions like this, I always defer to the wisdom of Duke Ellington: "If it sounds good, it is good."
-- Jack Fear