Album: Half the City

Artist: St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Label: Single Lock

Release Date: February 18, 2014

St Paul


Paul Janeway — the “St. Paul” in the band’s name — got his gospel blues chops the old fashioned way, singing from an early age in a Pentacostal church in Alabama. He sounds at his most fierce and climactic like James Carr, at his gentlest and most fluttery and lyrical like the Reverend Al Green. His six-piece band, too, has the slink and swagger of old Stax, horns blazing at the dramatic peaks, organ squealing in the margins. The septet (which includes guitarist Browan Lollar, late of Jason Isbell’s band) recorded this, its first full length, in historic Muscle Shoals with Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner at the dials, and it earns its association with both, track by track, with relentless emotional intensity and instrumental prowess. The best song (by a hair) “Like a Mighty River” rides swirling eddies and currents of vocal pyrotechnics, the kind of song that stretches simple words over multiple notes, measures, syllables and emotional states, the kind of band that navigates sea-swelling flourishes and dead-stops with equal aplomb.

Yet if I had to pick one factor that separates St. Paul and the Broken Bones from the soul shredding forebears that the music evokes, it’s not that all the players are white (though they are). No, the main difference between St. Paul and Sts. Otis, Al, James and O.V. is that this music is all climax, all flourish, all agitated pay-off. It’s like Janeway and his fellows became fascinated with the most exciting parts of 1960s and 1970s soul and decided to make songs that were constructed only of these bits. Yet the most stirring songs – “Try a Little Tenderness” or, say, “Drowning on Dry Land,” smoulder and smoke before they catch fire. Not everything needs to be emoted so hard, not every line requires an instrumental ta-dah! Try a little simplicity next time. It makes the big swells all the more impressive.

DOWNLOAD: “Like a Mighty River,” “Call Me”


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