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Stone Foundation Stone Foundation
Album: Street Rituals
Label: 100%
Tracks: 10

Anyone searching for a musical map of Stone Foundation need look no further than side one track one of this, their fourth album. Back in the Game draws on 50 years of soul music, from the whip-smart snap of classic Stax to the after dark metropolitan mettle of Luther Vandross, checking for the jazz, the funk and the proto-hip hop along the way, as well as more Anglicised readings of the gospel a la Dexys or Young Disciples.

Deep in the groove and trading vocals with singer Neil Jones is the album's producer Paul Weller whose innate understanding of where this record came from is evident from the outset. It's packed with American influences, not to mention Afro-Caribbean, Asian, continental European and even Latin, but it is undeniably British - fabulously so in fact. What's more, it's a Modernist British record in the best and broadest sense of the term, progressive, outward and upward looking, expansive and sharp enough to snip any loose threads as soon as look at them.

Soul legend Betty LaVette storms her vocal duties on Season of Change, adding grit and gravitas in equal measure; while William Bell performs more restrained but no less telling alchemy on Strange People. Both are object lessons in how a guest can make a real difference to a record and not just hang around for the sake of kudos.

So well sussed and relentlessly engaging is this early summer peach of an album it's hard to find moments that drag. Its essence is beautifully captured in the unashamedly positive hand clapping, foot shuffling soul breeze of Open Your Heart to the World, so joyful is it you'd have to wipe the smile off your face - assuming you'd want to of course.

There's a further distillation of such glorious instincts in the organ motivated The Limit of a Man before Weller returns on the mood enhancing title track and to even greater effect on Your Balloon Is Rising - sunshine soul of the highest order that should have the doubters checking back to revise opinions about the breadth and quality of music he made with the much-disparaged Style Council.

Authenticity is rightly prized in these all too frequently phony times and it's to be celebrated in whatever form it's found, but it never sounded as legit as when it comes as well suited and booted as this.

Nick Churchill