Angie Stone emerged during the late-’90s neo-soul movement after years of struggling to create a name for herself. Actually, her sound embodies neo-soul, which harkens back to the more layered compositions of ’70s soul but has a progressive edge borrowed from hip-hop. After three albums quality albums on Arista, Stone has joined the reactivated Stax Records, and the move has marked a creative resurgence of sorts. As the premier artist for the legendary soul imprint, Stone has been set free from the shackles of a major label. The result is one of the best neo-soul albums to come out in years.
Stone has hit her stride. She has the sort of smoky voice and delivery that recalls greats like Gladys Knight, yet she has a modern swagger. The fourteen tracks on The Art of Love & War exploits this juxtaposition to the fullest; it’s packed with old-school cuts that bump with subtle hip-hop flavor. The piano intro of “Take Everything In” gives way to a head-nodding beat and the groove continues through mid-tempo standouts “Baby,” “Here We Go Again,” “Make It Last,” and the Al B. Sure-sampling “Pop Pop.” She rides each beat with smooth precision, her voice simultaneously full of joy and heartache.
About ten of the album’s tracks are produced in a similar style, channeling the musical complexity of the ’70s over a simple funky track. The formula works well, so when the album moves away from this style on the “Brotha”-inspired “My People,” it’s a bit of a jolt. But praise should be given for Stone’s empowering track and thoughtful guests, including James Ingram, Betty Wright, Pauletta Washington, and John Legend.
The strength of the album rests not on one aspect. From the dense lyrics spanning a wealth of topics to the perfect production, The Art of Love & War proves that Stone isn’t going anywhere.