OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
100% Records (CD, LP)
By John Curley
Twenty-five years into their career, the powerhouse eight-piece British soul band Stone Foundation are at the top of their game. Why are they not massive stars? They consistently produce top-notch albums. And this, their tenth studio LP, is another one. It’s filled with soulful, danceable songs full of positivity. Seriously, what more do they have to do? The band is so tight that they make it sound easy. This is not a band that relies on gimmicks, cheap theatrics or AutoTune. They are professionals to the point of being like a well-oiled machine, albeit one that makes the listener want to groove and dance. In a more just world, they’d be winning armfuls of Grammy and BRIT Awards.
Led by vocalist/guitarist Neil Jones and bassist Neil Sheasby, Stone Foundation recorded Outside Looking In at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Surrey, England. Weller contributed backing vocals and guitar to several of the tracks on the album. He was one of several guest artists that helped to make the album a stellar piece of work.
The legendary American disco diva Melba Moore is featured on “Now That You Want Me Back,” which has a classic 1970s dance-club feel to it. Moore’s lead vocal is top notch. And the horns provide some fantastic backing. The British vocalist Sulene Fleming, former lead vocalist with Brand New Heavies, performs a terrific duet with Jones on the strong soul track “Stylin’.” The outstanding funk track “Heaven Knows Why” provides spotlight moments to the British vocalists Laville and Sheree Dubois. They also sing part of the song as a duet. In addition, the horns and bassist Sheasby contribute excellent work to the track. Dubois features again on the terrific soul song “Reach Up Higher” along with the British vocalist Graziella Affinita. The chilled-out vibe to the song is infectious.
The funky title track has something of a New York City/Talking Heads feel to it. It has a strong soul vocal by Jones with some great saxophone work in the instrumental break as well as rock-solid bass playing by Sheasby throughout. It changes course toward the end to a faster pace that features the horns and flute, and it comes to an abrupt end.
“I Need Your Love” sounds like a great lost Philadelphia International tune from the 1970s. Highlighted by Jones’ strong and soulful vocal, it also features fantastic work by the horns. “Echoes Of Joy” is an upbeat song that emphasizes positivity with lyrics such as “Believe in yourself / And you can make a difference.” It’s got a great grove and a solid vocal by Jones. “Movin’ On” starts with poignant-sounding piano before the rest of the band kicks in. Jones again delivers a terrific vocal and the bass, congas and trumpet all stand out. “Feel The Colours” is kind of a cross between a soul and gospel sound, and it has some really nice saxophone work during the instrumental break.
While it’s still early in the year, I think it’s safe to say that Outside Looking In is among the best albums that will be released this year. Stone Foundation have done themselves proud. Again. It would be great if the anticipated success of this album enables the band to tour in North America. I’d love to see them in concert.
The music video for “Outside Looking In” can be seen below:
The music video for “Now That You Want Me Back” (featuring Melba Moore) can be seen below:
The music video for “Echoes Of Joy” can be seen below:
A live-in-the-studio performance of “Outside Looking In” can be seen below: