Street Rituals is a modern urban symphony that turns the hard facts of daily existence into the sweetest of soul. Produced by Paul Weller and with significant contributions by him on a number of tracks, this album is watertight. However, Neil Jones and Neil Shearsby, co-founders of Stone Foundation, must ultimately take the credit.
In true British soul style, there is a lot of Fred Perry action and sharp (grey) hair here. The songs themselves are equally well turned out with not a wayward collar or wrinkled armpit in sight. Street Rituals is a piece of musical optimism, sonic self-help. Back in the Game features Paul Weller singing a shared vocal. There are lots of soul references in the strings and horns that run throughout the album. These provide the emotion that this smooth production needs. The obligatory ‘Oh, brother’, sneaks in and it is clear that this is music that takes itself seriously.
It is easy to hear the influence of The Style Council in tracks such as ‘The Limit of a Man’. One of the catchier tunes on Street Rituals, the lyrics continue to explore the hope once the storm is over and ‘having peace in your heart forever.’ The strings and organ provide orchestral accompaniment. The title track, ‘Street Rituals’, is a plane coursing across the early spring sky, the sun illuminating the jetstream. So many of these tracks have the same quality of Bill Withers’s ‘Lovely Day. It is evident that this collaboration has been one in which both parties have taken a lot of pride and pleasure. The message is consistent ‘we got to work together’; a contemporary and grown-up call to protect the vulnerable.
The coolest of regards must go to guest vocalists William Bell and Bettye Lavette. On ‘Strange People’, Bell sings about ‘All the children trapped in the world’. It is a classic soul cri de coeur in which the tear-stained faces of infants face an uncertain future. The juxtaposition of ‘innocent minds…troubling times’ is the ‘Inner City Blues’ moment on Street Rituals. Lavette’s performance on ‘Seasons of Change’ provides a much needed female presence on an otherwise very male album. The track is assertive and her voice is so rich, she might as well be singing in the corner of your living room. She channels the strength of inner city women.
Lyrically, the most interesting track is ‘The Colour of…’.What follows is a sequence of abstract nouns and adjectives: war, peace, time, rage. ‘What colour is love?’ Indeed. It’s difficult not to get swept along. When the music fades and Weller’s voice can still be heard in the distance, it’s like the Pied Piper has been to town taking all the adults with him.
Change for the better is so very close.
Street Rituals will be released on 31st March 2017 through 100% Records.