100% RECORDS 31st March 2017
Eighteen months ago, I was loving the smooth Isley Brothers sounds of Stone Foundation’s A Life Unlimited and making reference to The Style Council. This time round, Stone Foundation have Paul Weller producing their album and with credits on a couple of songs. It all began with Paul approaching the band to add lyrics to a piano instrumental of his. And, like Topsy, it grew into their fifth album. The Limit Of A Man is the big centrepiece, the song with Weller that started the album. A punchy and yet silky smooth tune – soulful, full of melody, organ and strings behind the flow.
Let me take you down memory lane…. Once upon a time American record shops returned albums that hadn’t sold to the distributors for a discount. The distributor cut a slice from the sleeve, put it on a boat as ballast and it turned up in cheapo record shops. Music-obsessed lads like me would flick through the racks with often no more than the sleeve or a distant memory of a mention in the music press to go by. Likely finds would be bought and taken home to sample. There were a few missteps but many great discoveries. This ramble is by way of telling you that if I’d found this in the racks and taken it home, I’d have treated it as an unrecognised soul classic.
It could have come from the seventies or from today. It bears strong influences of seventies soul, of the Philly sound, of the Isleys, of Percy Sledge, even the spirit of Gill Scott Heron. The sound is polished and songs are about struggle, turning yourself around, surviving heartbreak, helping each other, and getting by in times of hardship. Very much a record for today as much as any previous decade. They encourage the lovelorn to “get right back in the game” and the sad to “open your heart to the world”. They are hopeful through the struggle to “make your words count for something” and “know we can make it together” while, underneath it, “the man with empty pockets understands there’s a better plan.” Rise up, people; you are being robbed – of dignity as well as a living.
It’s nice that Paul Weller’s involvement will attract attention but move past that and celebrate the awesomely polished sound of this Brummie eight-piece band. Not since Van Morrison or Dexy’s Midnight Runners has soul had such a proper grounding in a band this side of the Atlantic.
The key is the sound. Drawing on all the soul greats, the record grooves along through mid and slow-tempo songs, through love and anger, through sadness and stoicism. It sees your feet sliding gently around to strings, flute, horns, ‘wacka-wacka’ funky flange guitar and the great sound of a Hammond organ. Ultimately, this album is a feeling – of rising past survival – and a sound; of the greats of American soul.