Stone FoundationSometimes it’s shocking that a band can be around for nearly ten years playing quality music without ever grabbing your attention; maybe it’s because, contrary to popular belief, there are still hundreds of superb bands out there and it’s just possible to occasionally miss one.  So I have to apologise to Stone Foundation; let’s hope I can make up for my shocking ignorance.  Before I even start on the music, I have to say that there’s an attitude about the band that evokes the early days of Dexys Midnight Runners; the band page on their website reads like one of Kevin Rowland’s legendary communiqués in the band’s heady early days.  There are lots of underplayed references to their influences on the website as well, but you can find those for yourself.

The band members are Neil Jones (vocals, guitar and harmonica), Neil Sheasby (bass), Ian Arnold (Hammond), Philip K Ford (drums), Spencer Hague (trombone), Lynn Thompson (trumpet) and Gary Rollins (saxophone and flute).  They’ve been touring as headliners and recently as support to acts like The Specials on their recent arena tour, steadily building up their own fanbase and “To Find the Spirit” is their fifth studio album.  This is a band which wears its influences proudly on its sleeve; if it’s remotely soulful and it was made in the 60s or 70s, it’s probably had an influence on Stone Foundation.  The playing is of the very highest quality but this isn’t about style over substance and flashy solos; on “To Find the Spirit”, everything is beautifully arranged for the seven-piece ensemble and nothing is out of place.  And if that isn’t enough for you, there are guest appearances from soul legend Nolan Porter, 60s icon and soul survivor Andy Fairweather Low, former Dexys bass player Pete Williams, journalist and soulboy Paolo Hewitt and the fabulous former Young Disciple Carleen Anderson.

The album pulls you in instantly with the opening bass, guitar and Hammond crescendo of “To Find the Spirit” leading into a horn arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Southside Johnny record; to make things better still, it evoked memories of the 70s Natalie Cole classic, “This Will Be”.  A pretty good start really.  “Bring Back the Happiness” (featuring Nolan Porter) starts with a clean guitar riff and Hammond chords and tips more than a wink to Booker T’s “Time is Tight”.  “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” again has a lovely Stax feel, presenting us with the rare treat of a trombone solo and you really don’t hear enough of those these days.  “When You’re in My World” (featuring Carleen Anderson and the Q Strings) continues in a similar 60s feel with a lovely understated sax solo before the thunderous drum and pure Dexys horn intro leads into “Stronger Than Us”.

“Don’t Let the Rain” is, I suspect quite deliberately, the centrepiece of the album with its laid-back positive message and gradual build-up over nearly nine minutes using all the elements of the band (particularly sax and muted trumpet) in the arrangement, and it’s followed by the slow 60s groove of “Crazy Love”, again featuring a Nolan Porter vocal.  “Telepathic Blessing”, with its moody electric piano intro, builds to an ending which has the Hammond and horns working perfectly together.  “Hold On”, featuring Andy Fairweather Low, with its mid-tempo feel could be a post-Impressions Curtis Mayfield song and I don’t throw compliments like that around lightly.

“Child of Wonder” is an interesting combination of a surreal Paolo Hewitt rites-of-passage monologue set against a jazz-funk background (built around the bass riff from Roy Budd’s “Get Carter” theme) evoking smoky LA bars lit by out-of focus neon lights.  If you’ve heard “Over the Border”, the opening track from the recent Saint Etienne classic album “Words and Music”, you might hear a few similarities.  “Wondrous Place”, featuring Pete Williams is the mid-tempo, Hammond and horn-led closer to the album before the bonus Dennis Bovell dub mix of “Don’t Let the Rain”, which creates a lot of space and doesn’t try to compensate with a lot of unnecessary effects.

If you’ve ever liked anything by Booker T and the MGs, Young Disciples, Nuyorican Soul or anything on Stax and Atlantic, then you’ll love this.  “To Find the Spirit” is a labour of love where the songs, the performances and the arrangements dovetail perfectly to create a seductive and glorious stew of influences which still sounds vibrant and contemporary.

Released March 10 2014 on Republic of Music, via Universal (CD – TPCD007, Vinyl – TPL007).

For the second consecutive year, Billie Ray Martin makes a contribution to our High Fives feature.  We’ve been looking forward to this one because the 2012 selection featured some great songs and artists which were new to us at MusicRiot.  We weren’t disappointed.  Please take a bit of time to check out the links; it’s worth it.

Visions of the CountryRobbie Basho -- “Blue Crystal Fire”

Robbie Basho’s tenth album “Visions of the Country” (originally released in 1978) was re-released this year after being unavailable for over thirty years.  Although he’s remembered for his innovative guitar stylings and tunings and attempts to integrate western and oriental music, the standout feature on this song is the powerful counter-tenor vocal with incredible vibrato.  He died at the age of 45 in 1986.

 

Look InsideNils Bech -- “Breaking Patterns Part 2 (The Breakup)”

The first of two selections from the Norwegian performance artist Nils Bech’s 2013 “Look Inside” album, this is an intimate arrangement with a minimalist acoustic piano and beautiful sautillé strings under a close-miked vocal which deals with a relationship falling apart.  The final third of the song mirrors the break-up with a descent into atonality from the string section.

 

NinaXiu Xiu --  “Don’t Smoke In Bed”

Xiu Xiu is an American experimental indie band which has existed in various guises since 2002. This song is from the recently- released album of Nina Simone covers, “Nina”.  The arrangement is almost completely percussion-free, with rhythm supplied by a horn section and one guitar and shifts from fairly traditional horn arrangements (with the guitar taking one of the horn lines) to free-form jazz.  Singer Jamie Stewart delivers a vocal which is just this side of a deranged, creating a version which, incredibly, is more over-wrought than the original.
Look InsideNils Bech -- “A Sudden Sickness”

This follows directly on from “Breaking Patterns…” on the “Look Inside” album and is the next part of the  narrative sequence.  The song opens with acoustic piano backing before settling into an electronic percussion and keyboard arrangement underpinning the lyrical theme of the inevitable jealousy towards an ex-partner who has moved on; it actually has a feel of the Abba song “One of Us”.  Both are standout songs, but you really should listen to the entire album.

Garden of ProblemsPoisonous Relationship -- “Men’s Feelings”

This is a contemporary track which takes its influences from the early ‘90s when house started to incorporate breakbeats into the 303 and 808 backing tracks.  It has a feel of Jamie Principle and, towards the end, a hint of the jazz-funk of NuYorican Soul.  It’s the lead track from the androgynous Sheffield artist Jamie Crewe’s “Garden of Problems” EP and it’s hypnotic and gorgeous.