Allen Stone, a 24-year-old Seattle songwriter, was an unabashed throwback when he performed at a packed S.O.B.’s on Wednesday night. He talked about cellphones and social networks and sang about, among other things, the clout of the Christian right and a culture of greed. But his music reached back four decades to the late 1960s and early ’70s, when songwriters like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers brought introspection and social commentary to soul music.
He didn’t look the part. “I will never ask for immunity/ because I was born and raised in the Caucasian community,” he sang in “Last to Speak,” a song that reels off political observations, then apologizes for a lack of humility. “We will never find racial unity/ unless we find equal opportunity,” the song adds.
With long blond hair and chunky eyeglasses, wearing a Sonics jersey under a mismatched sweater, Mr. Stone was a study in looking unstudied — the better, perhaps, to surprise the audience when he let loose a tenor voice with the eagerness and frisky syncopations of Mr. Wonder, coupled at times with Michael Jackson’s percussive flourishes. Between songs he professed modesty, yet when he sang he was long-breathed and confident, savoring every complaint and exhortation.
His band used a vintage, gospel-rooted lineup including both organ and (electric) piano, with Mr. Stone often strumming an acoustic guitar. Most of the set came from his second album, “Allen Stone,” released on Oct. 4 on his own entirely independent Stickystones label. “I would love every single one of you to leave with a copy of that record,” he said near the end of the set, and went on to urge anyone who couldn’t afford its $10 price to talk to him about a discount.
Mr. Stone is a pastor’s son who grew up singing in church, and every so often he offered preacherly cadences. In an implicit challenge to some of his fellow soul revivalists — like, perhaps, the very buttoned-down Mayer Hawthorne — Mr. Stone declaimed: “I’m sick and tired of soul music looking so crisp and clean and proper! Because my soul — I said my soul! — is just a little bit greasy.”
It’s also strategic. His songs don’t hide their kinship to the past, but he gives them clear-cut melodies of his own. Mr. Stone has also absorbed the pacing and showmanship of his heroes, switching off between party tunes and messages, mingling sincerity and shtick. He split the room for a dance off, urging “Get nasty!” Midset, he dismissed the band to play two songs by himself, exposing the thinner side of his voice.
But he was better off with the band, and he was saving musicianly exploits for the set’s homestretch. He unleashed a supple, Prince-like falsetto for “Unaware,” an economic commentary disguised as a love ballad. He whistled a solo in “Satisfaction,” which shares only its title with the Rolling Stones song. And for “Reality,” a mournful but benign breakup song, he sat solo playing electric piano, an instrument he hadn’t yet touched, as if hinting that there’s still more of his music to be discovered.
Article originally appeared on the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com) and was written by Jon Pareles.
Amazing performance by Allen Stone on Conan!
Today I’ve the pleasure to bring you the news that on October 26th, Chewelah son Allen Stone will be gracing the stage of fellow Northwest son Conan O’Brien.
During its first week the independently released Allen Stone peaked the iTunes R&B charts with a #2 position. “We didn’t expect the #2 R&B album thing at all,” admitted manager BJ Olin. “It’s felt like a week, two weeks, 6 months, 4 years leading up to this week.” Whatever time he’s put in or chart position reached, at this point Allen Stone himself is hardly about to call it good. Fresh off a guest appearance with Seattle Rock Orchestra show in tribute to Stevie Wonder, Stone says “This is the beginning of the beginning. This is the seed being planted.”
Though Stone is talking about his budding career here, he could just as easily be speaking of the growing movement of citizenry waking up to the loss of the American Dream of upward mobility, waking up as Stone himself recounts in his song “Unaware,” the song he’ll be playing on Conan. I asked Allen about how the themes of “Unaware” dovetail with the current #occupy protests that appear to be gaining steam. Written a year into the bailout of the world’s largest banks while regular folks were suffering the consequences of those banks’ mistakes, “It’s a testament to how I was feeling at the time,” Stone relates. “It seems we’re always talking about budget issues, but then every year we spend more and more. I know there’s a lot of people feeling this that are my age (24). So why not talk about it? Is anybody else questioning this stuff?” Of course, the people in the streets are the emphatic answer to his rhetorical question.
Though Stone himself is currently putting all his focus into the release of his new record and hasn’t participated in any protests, he’s been hearing about his song’s impact in those circles. “I think it’s great that citizens are coming together,” he says. “It’s weird to think that a song can encourage people to do something.” (Other than dance, of course.) Asked whether this song is a protest song meant to do just that, not counting himself that political Stone responds with a yes that it could be considered so, and then a no that it wasn’t really his intent, before clarifying his position as “Be a good steward and shepherd of what’s given to you. I hope my music stirs up those thoughts.”
Allen Stone is on Conan on October 26th on the TBS Network. October 22nd City Arts Fest hosts Stone at an already sold out Triple Door with Fly Moon Royalty. In also just announced news, Stone will be supporting Jack’s Mannequin Oct 30th - Nov 5th on dates in western Canada, Missoula and Spokane.
Article originally appeared on Sound on the Sound (http://www.soundonthesound.com) and was written by Josh Lovseth.
Check out Sara Pi’s new album, Burning. Stop by for a free download http://bit.ly/om4IeY