Soul singer Allen Stone recently took a day off from the tour that will bring him to One Eyed Jacks Thursday to schmooze radio stations in Atlanta. Stone’s new album, “Radius,” is a throwback to the heyday of 1970s R&B, and there have been decades when his songs would be sure shots on radio.
But his Stevie Wonder/Marvin Gaye/Bill Withers-influenced sound is now a rarity on the airwaves. Stations aren’t sure that they want it, much less from a young white guy who looks like he just stepped off his skateboard.
“I’m not very pretty, and I don’t date any of the Kardashians, so America doesn’t care about me as much as radio stations would like,” he said by phone, laughing.
It doesn’t help that one of his visual trademarks along with his hats are his substantial glasses. “I’m legally blind,” Stone said. “If I take these off, I’m screwed.”
Stone grew up in a small town in rural Washington, where his father was a pastor. He sang in the church and knew early on that he wanted to be a singer, but his ambition seemed like a pipe dream in a town with no live music venues.
“There’s not a record store. There’s not an instrument shop,” Stone said of the town he grew up in. “Saying, ‘I want to be a singer’ — you might as well say, ‘I want to be president of the United States.’”
His first turning point came when he heard Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions.” Before that, his musical interests leaned toward Dave Matthews Band and Cake. Stone realized that the grooves in the bands he liked came from Wonder and earlier R&B but with better, deeper singers, and soul became his obsession.
When he heard Carencro’s Marc Broussard’s 2004 hit “Home,” the song and Broussard’s voice blew Stone away. He downloaded everything Broussard had recorded, including B-sides and unreleased live tracks, and saw him in concert in Spokane.
“Seeing Marc live made me think I could be a singer,” he said.
“Radius” is Stone’s third album, and he considers it his truest, most personal expression. Stone’s lyrics have a plainspoken take on the life he’s leading. Whether he’s talking about love or stardom, every song has a common-sense quality that brings each song to the level of the listener.
“The Wire,” for example, was written about a Seattle-based musician who went from everybody’s favorite underdog to everybody’s punch line when he became successful. When Stone sings, “I’m so tired / of walking this wire,” the context widens and listeners can connect to feeling weary of trying to meet people’s expectations.
One of the album’s most pointed songs is “Fake Future,” which addresses the way technology has insinuated itself into almost every aspect of our lives.
While Stone wags his finger first at the way it’s used in art, he doesn’t let himself off the hook although his producer Magnus Tingsek used drum loops on a number of tracks — loops that were initially played by himself or musicians, Stone insists.
“I think that people utilize technology as a crutch,” he said. “I see bands on stage with three people playing and 15 instruments coming through the speakers. And know what they’re getting paid because I get close to the same guarantee.
“Why not employ somebody who can play the acoustic guitar and the keyboard? People lean on this culture of tracks and laptops on stage a little bit too much. The human element is robbed from this thing that needs the human element to be art.”
Like many classic soul songs, introspection comes to Stone in appealing packages. “Freedom” feels celebratory even if the lyric is about seeking it, and “American Privilege” examines the complex place he occupies in the world in music that moves with seductive clarity.
“I hit the lottery” by being born white, male and American, Stone said.
“I’m at the top 1 percent of the world population in terms of opportunity and lifestyle. I take it for granted all the time and don’t utilize my ability to positively affect the world around me the best I could. There are catastrophic problems right now that affect all of mankind, and we as Americans get stuck on whether we want whole milk or soy in our lattes.”
The last time Stone played New Orleans was the Halloween weekend of 2013 when he was on the Voodoo Music Experience lineup, and even that late in the year the humidity made an impact on him. “Us pale folks from the Northwest do not do well with hot and humid locations,” he said, laughing. “I remember sweating lots, and I remember drinking more than I should be allotted in a night. But the culture of New Orleans is electric.”