Allen Stone

Building Balance

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With his soulfully resonant voice and long blond curls, singer Allen Stone was an unlikely R&B sensation when he broke through with his independently released 2011 self-titled sophomore album. Nonetheless, the record cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and put the self-described "hippie with soul" on the national pop music radar. That album showcased Stone's earthy knack for Stevie Wonder-esque songs, a vibe he built upon with his more slickly produced 2015 follow-up, Radius. On 2019's aptly titled Building Balance, Stone splits the difference between his organic first two albums and the more sonically vibrant Radius, offering a set of hooky tracks that make the most of his charismatic vocal presence. Whereas last time he worked with Swedish producer Tingsek, here he primarily worked with Britain's Jamie Lidell, who brings his own neo-soul skills to bear, producing and co-writing a handful of songs. Also adding to the album's soulful production are Jeremy Most, Nasri Atweh, and Jeff Gitelman, who each earn co-writing and production credits. All of which means that Stone has surrounded himself with a like-minded group of collaborators who know how to bring his effusive, new jack swing-influenced brand of R&B to life. It's a sound that brings to mind other retro-leaning artists like Raphael Saadiq and Aloe Blacc. In fact, Stone explicitly underlines his new jack inspiration on the punchy anthem "Back to the Swing," shifting from rap to vocal sections as the Dap-Kings Horns lay down funky brass riffs. Elsewhere, he offers a set of hooky, romance-heavy cuts including the infectious "Brown Eyed Lover," the mid-tempo '90s-style groover "Sunny Days," and the kinetic breakup jam "Sweaters." This is ebullient R&B with a hippie soul that evokes the best of the new jack swing sound.

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