The gospel of Allen Stone

Courtesy PhotoRetro soul: Concerts by Allen Stone

Courtesy PhotoRetro soul: Concerts by Allen Stone

Soul crooner Allen Stone still remembers when doubt about dogmatic religious beliefs began to creep in. It was in his early teens, on one of several church-sponsored missions he undertook with his pastor father to impoverished parts of Ukraine.

“I always felt horrible about going there and doing something positive for a community, only to try and convince them to be Christian,” he says. “It was like, ‘I’m not doing this out of the goodness of my heart, I’m doing this to build up treasures in heaven and get people to believe in Jesus Christ.’ It was so … not right.”

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Still, the Chewelah, Wash.-raised Stone — who plays The City this week, backing his self-titled, gospel-fervent sophomore CD — convinced himself he would continue in his father’s footsteps and become a minister.

Then he enrolled in a Bible college in Spokane, and his skepticism deepened.

“That’s what really opened my eyes to the fallacy of Christianity,” says the 25-year-old, now an agnostic. “Actually learning the history of the Bible and the church, interpretation and translation? That was all unveiled to me at once, and I just woke up, like, ‘I literally do not believe what I’ve been told to believe!’”

His family’s nondenominational chapel did provide Stone with his rafter-raising vocal ability, honed via countless traditional hymns he practiced since age 3.

Discovering Stevie Wonder’s classic “Innervisions” at 15 pushed him in a more R&B direction, and his finger-snapping originals — such as “Unaware” and “What I’ve Seen” — meld both worlds, with message-laden socio-political lyrics that don’t preach, but are guided by a strong moral compass.

“Soul music hasn’t always been inside of me. It’s something that I’ve definitely had to work on,” he says. “But just being around all that music in church really influenced me as a singer.”

Fans often are stunned the first time they attend one of the blond, longhaired and bespectacled singer’s concerts, and tell him how much the experience felt like a Sunday morning revival meeting.

But winning over a crowd is nothing new. “When I was 12, I started leading worship for my dad’s church, with guitar and vocals,” he says. “You’d pick out the songs and lead the congregation in prayer and the singing portion of the service. And it nurtured my love of performing, for sure.”

Stone isn’t anti-church. Yet he adds, “Its core values — like ‘love your neighbor,’ ‘give love to receive love’ — are not godly. They’re universal standards, and just man’s natural way of understanding happiness. So a communal-service aspect is still inside of me. But my personal belief in the Bible is not.”

artsGreat American Music HallmusicPop Music & JazzSan Francisco

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