Born the son of a preacher in rural Washington, blue-eyed soul singer Allen Stone exudes an extraordinary charisma on stage that could only be the product of his formative years leading worship. His magnetic performing presence doesn’t stop at the edge of the stage, however, but radiates from his recordings, and remains as palpable as ever on his third album, and first for Capitol Records, Radius. Produced by Benny Cassette (Kanye West) and Malay (Frank Ocean), and made in close collaboration with long-time creative partner Magnus Tingsek, Radius is an exploration of self-awareness. The album finds Stone contemplating his experiences and views of the world, and his own place within it with an alluring veracity that never feels as contrived as it sometimes does at the pulpit.
As well as this characteristic earnestness, Stone’s commitment to the raw musicality of classic R&B and soul music defines Radius. A commitment most pointed in track Fake Future, a somewhat self-righteous admonishment of the ubiquitous influence of technology in today’s art, where Stone encourages artists to “chuck their laptops” in the quest for true, human expression. This conscientious understanding of place and relevance continues on the poignant American Privilege. Opening with “Oh, it doesn’t seem right / that I was born white”, this track sees Stone acknowledging an ethnic privilege that many artists who participate in, and profit from, decidedly black musical culture are too uninformed to recognise. He also alludes to the lottery of birthplace, pointing out that regardless of race, gender or sexuality the privilege of being born into one of the most prosperous nations in the world is a fact that too few people discuss. Its infectious sound (sleek percussion, strings and key-based grooves) endeavours to make its socially aware theme as catchy as the music.
On Circle, Stone returns to the musical roots that preceded his adolescent discovery of soul music. Featuring a folksy acoustic guitar that cyclically opens and closes the track, Stone laments the universal feelings of fear and desperation associated with emotional self-imprisonment. I Know That I Wasn’t Right is also a disarmingly tender ballad about coming to terms with mistakes and personal failures, amidst soothing Hammond and striking vocals. Snappy track Upside picks things back up, while the disco-kissed Freezer Burn, whose stratospheric falsetto only highlights the track’s depths of bitterness, keeps Radius kicking.
On the gospel-influenced Where You’re At, Stone’s uplifting optimism (“Keep your dirt on the surface and just love where you’re at”) and key-driven riff recalls the Impressions’ classic People Get Ready. Gospel backing vocals and their divine harmonies reappear on The Wire, whose social themes partner well with the political understanding of tracks like American Privilege. Unapologetic positivity invades the fiery Freedom, whose rollicking, horn-fuelled 4 minutes of movement-inducing fun will no doubt see the track finding its way onto our radios soon.
Notwithstanding a handful of distracting moments, including the disturbing use of geometrical metaphors in the otherwise funky groove of Symmetrical, as well as the trite similes that rear their heads in Love, Stone’s authenticity, magnetism and impressive vocals reign supreme. Radius presents an original interpretation of the music and artists he admires. Like his previous efforts, none of Stone’s music feels manufactured or intrusive on expansive musical traditions, which of late have been commandeered by blue-eyed soul singers with little regard for social context and political possibilities.