The Soul Sessions is the debut album by Joss Stone. It was released in the United Kingdom on 24 November 2003 by Relentless Records. The album consists of a collection of cover versions of '60s and '70s soul songs, in addition to a cover of a contemporary song, re-arranged into a soul song.
The Soul Sessions was produced by Miami soul singer Betty Wright and S-Curve Records chief executive officer Steve Greenberg. She worked with veteran Miami soul musicians Benny Latimore, Little Beaver, Timmy Thomas and Wright herself. She also worked with contemporary musicians such as neo soul singer Angie Stone and the alternative hip hop group The Roots.
The Soul Sessions entered the UK Albums Chart at number forty-seven for the week of 17 January 2004 (the highest debut of that week), and reached its peak position of number four three weeks later. It spent twelve non-consecutive weeks in the top ten and seventy weeks altogether in the top seventy-five, including three re-entries in 2005. The British Phonographic Industry certified the album triple platinum on 15 April 2005, denoting shipments of over 900,000 copies. Additionally, it became the UK's nineteenth best-selling album of 2004.
In the United States, The Soul Sessions was a sleeper hit. On the issue dated 4 October 2003, the album debuted at number 199 on the Billboard 200 and at number seventy-six on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, peaking at number thirty-nine on the former and at number thirty-eight on the latter in its twenty-fourth week on both charts, on the issue dated 8 May 2004. Prior to that, the album topped the Top Heatseekers during the week of 21 February 2004. Sales were heavy on the East Coast, especially in cities such as New York City, Philadelphia and Boston. Within six months of its release, The Soul Sessions was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on 29 March 2004, having sold 914,000 units as of March 2007.
The Soul Sessions was met with positive reviews by music critics. At Metacritic the album received an average score of 74, based on 15 reviews. Rolling Stone stated that "Stone shines on this impressive covers set" and that "[s]he chooses songs wisely." Allmusic's wrote that Stone "has unique phrasing and a huge voice that accents, dips, and slips, never overworking a song or trying to bring attention to itself via hollow acrobatics." Entertainment Weekly noted that Stone "does have an extraordinary voice", but added that "the only misguided ploy on The Soul Sessions is a Roots-produced slo-mo cover of a White Stripes tune." The New Zealand Herald opined that "with her strong, emotive voice she nails it time and again, and with performances that aren't an excuse for the vocal acrobatic show you imagine this would have been had Stone been America's next bright young thing."
The Guardian described her singing as "rich, mature and agile but not showy". Blender magazine gave the album three stars out of five and commented that "Stone's voice is remarkably authentic, and the atmosphere she conjures is smoky and sleazy, pure mid-'60s Detroit." PopMatters wrote that her voice is "more of a soulful voice than those so-called soul divas out there today" and that it "oozes sex appeal as Benny Latimore's piano weaves some magic." The A.V. Club, remarked that "Sessions establishes Stone as a formidable interpreter." BBC Music felt that the album "seems a bit of an artistic compromise, music from the rule book rather than the heart." Robert Christgau was not impressed either (but who cares, he's a total douchebag), and viewed Stone's covers as "the kind of soul marginalia Brits have been overrating since Doris Troy was on Apple".