Album Review: Half the City by St. Paul & the Broken Bones
Very Good, Based on 5 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Brother, can I get an “amen”? Amen! That’s the sentiment the listener gets after hearing Alabama based sextet St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Influenced by the church, specifically the black gospel tradition in addition to vintage soul, debut album Half the City is a legit soul LP in 2014. Soul and the year 2014 seem an unlikely pairing, particularly with the heavy reliance of electronic instruments and autotune, but the relationship proves to be one that’s “Simply Beautiful” as Al Green would put it.
With a charismatic, dynamic, and theatrical lead singer who seems to channel the intensity of James Brown on-stage, a loose and punchy two-man horn section, and a garage band back line that holds everything down, Birmingham, Alabama's St. Paul & the Broken Bones at their best capture a retro-soul sound that echoes nothing so much as the classic Stax and Muscle Shoals sides from the late '60s and early '70s. Lead vocalist Paul Janeway's gospel-inflected soul singing is impassioned to say the least, and he wrings every ounce of sweat and soul out of the tracks included on this, the band's debut full-length album.
Here's a new American old-school soul band with the perfect pedigree. St Paul & the Broken Bones are a six-piece from Birmingham, Alabama who recorded their album in Muscle Shoals with help from producer Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, using vintage technology to replicate the sound of the great southern soul performers of the 60s. They are not pure revivalists – they write their own material, which is often adequate rather than memorable – but their style is steeped in the musical traditions of the region, and they are helped by a remarkable singer.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones Half the City (Single Lock) How to explain a guy that looks like Drew Carey and sounds like Otis Redding? As incongruous as his appearance may be, Paul Janeway takes the soul revival to an equally outrageous place with a voice that hovers between sexy sweet and flat-out dirty. Hailing from Alabama's suddenly exemplary music scene, the horn-fueled Broken Bones don't re-create one funky groove after another.
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.