So it’s Saturday night again (already!), and I’m waiting for Dropbox files from a fantastic headshot photo shoot I did this afternoon to upload, and not being the type to enjoy the sight of paint drying, or, you know, Dropbox files syncing, I decide to indulge in a bit of Facebook browsing. [Yes, I consider that a legitimate form of entertainment. I refuse to be challenged on this.]
And one of my good friends had shared this video, of soul and R&B singer Allen Stone singing his song, “Unaware” – live from his mother’s living room. I’d never heard of Allen Stone, and to be honest I saw the title of the video and thought, “Lol. Live from his mother’s living room?” [No, seriously that’s what I thought – “lol” and all. It’s scary how much like a google chat window my mind looks sometimes…]
So I click on it out of curiosity, noting the freeze-frame image of his boxy spectacles, and black toque pulled low over frizzy blonde locks. I thought maybe it was a parody video of some kind. Again, I’d never heard of him before.
So I hit play. And I’m immediately, immediately, struck by his voice.
I recently read an article about how any writer worth their salt who uses the word “indescribable” is simply showing their own verbal inadequacy, but it is the perfect word to describe how I felt listening to this man sing.
But let me go ahead and try.
Imagine the sensation of silk being drawn across a bed of rocks worn smooth by the ocean tide…and then imagine that as an aural experience. The first thing that came to mind was that he sounds kind of like Amos Lee, another musician whose voice struck me dumb the first time I heard him. But I don’t like to compare artists because then everyone sounds like someone else mixed with someone else – again, lazy writing.
Allen Stone has soul, and it surges out in his voice. There is a point in the song, right around the third bridge where he just erupts into this mind-warping, falsetto scream, and the term “eargasm” begins to make all kinds of sense.
Then you listen to the lyrics, and realize that not only does the man have an insanely beautiful voice, but he also writes songs that have depth and meaning. “Unaware” draws attention to the sharp discrepancies between the work and efforts of your average, hard-working citizen and the financial reward for their labour, and directly confronts the authorities in society that allow this to happen.
“Every day the deficit grows/ You spend more than you own/ Well, Papa always said to me/ Keep a close eye on your authority/ Yeah, cos…you say that you care/ But I was unaware…/ Cos all you do is push, pull or tear/ You can’t stretch it any farther// …And everyday the taxes increase/ So is this our land, or is this our lease?/ And Papa said, Son, it’s the land of the free/ As he broke his back trying to make ends meet…/Yeah…”
Listening to this song, I thought about how in music, especially popular music, the focus is all too often on image – what the musician wears or looks like matters more than what they’re actually singing about. But with Allen Stone, his unassuming appearance made me think of the way diamonds are presented against plain dark velvet; whenever you have such brilliance that’s where all the focus is (rightly) drawn – and anything else would just be distracting.
Listen to this song. And pay attention. Because he’s one of those people we really should pay attention to.