To describe Allen Stone's sultry vocal apparatus most accurately, one might resort (as I will) to whimsical faunery such as: vocal chords that were surely forged from a golden harp's wistful strings, cured in angel's tears and brushed gently with a flying unicorn's softest feathers. Today, the Balla from Chewelah (h/t to Josh Lovseth's "Thrilla from Chewelah") released his sophomore full-length, a self-titled affair that strolls around the lighter edges of funk and rhythm-and-blues, playfully hinting at the energetic blues of the Black Crowes on one side, and Raphael Saadiq's retro-soul on the other, but never quite hitting their mark. Instead, most of the album's ten songs exist in the less-interesting middle-ground, only occasionally reaching their full potential as well-built frames for Stone's sterling vocals.
Recorded in Los Angeles by Lior Goldenberg (Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Macy Gray, Ziggy Marley) with the assistance of Saadiq's entire rhythm section and Tower of Power, Stone rides predominantly bouncy rhythms, singing happy songs about love and celebration that, while accomplished in their musicianship (seriously, could you ask for a better backing band?), yearn for the stripped-down arrangements that highlighted Stone's strengths so well on his debut Last to Speak. Only when pulled back to a manageable grooviness, as on the sexed-up horn-and-guitar groove "Your Eyes", and the phenomenal slow-jam "Unaware" (or to a lesser extent, "The Wind"), is Stone is able to properly flex his might as a singer. In fact, the whole album seems like a build-up to its last two songs, as Stone was perhaps aware of their gravity, and set them at the end to ensure a strong ending if nothing else.
While its legendary backing band, and occasional moment of vocal perfection make the album a fun listen, a majority of the songs themselves lack the soul-wrenching tension that exists in the breaths between words, and at the end of each lingering note of powerful vocal performance. When Stone does his mark, it's impossible not to notice, but unfortunately, his sophomore effort falls short more often than not.