|St. Paul & The Broken Bones — Half the City (2014)|
St. Paul & The Broken Bones — Half the City
ο» A tight sextet with a gospel-tinged neo-soul garage sound complete with horns and a dynamic lead singer.
Formed: 2011 in Birmingham, Alabama
Location: Birmingham, Alabama. U.S.
Genre: Pop/Rock, R&B
Styles: Retro-Soul, Soul, Neo-Soul
Album release: February 18, 2014
Record Label: Single Lock
01 I'm Torn Up 3:37
02 Don't Mean a Thing 3:06
03 Call Me 2:51
04 Like a Mighty River 3:23
05 That Glow 3:04
06 Broken Bones & Pocket Change 3:47
07 Sugar Dyed 2:28
08 Half the City 3:17
09 Grass Is Greener 4:14
10 Let It Be So 3:19
11 Dixie Rothko 3:32
12 It's Midnight 2:31
℗ 2014 Single Lock Records
Paul Janeway / Jesse Phillips: 6, 7, 8
St. Paul & the Broken Bones: all others
Album Moods: Cathartic Earthy Gritty Intense Intimate Organic Powerful Quirky Summery Urgent
Themes: Feeling Blue Heartache Heartbreak In Love Late Night Maverick Rainy Day
♦♦ Ron Alexander Bass (Upright)
♦♦ Steven Berson Mastering
♦♦ James Brangle Keyboards
♦♦ Allen Branstetter Flugelhorn, Trumpet
♦♦ Al Gamble Organ, Piano, Wurlitzer
♦♦ Aaron Gresham Art Direction
♦♦ Ben Griner Trombone, Tuba
♦♦ Jamie Harper Sax (Baritone)
♦♦ Paul Janeway Composer, Vocals
♦♦ Andrew Lee Drums, Percussion
♦♦ Browan Lollar Guitar, Vocals (Background)
♦♦ David McClister Photography
♦♦ Les Nuby Engineer, Tambourine
♦♦ Jesse Phillips Bass, Composer, Guitar
♦♦ Daniel Stoddard Pedal Steel
♦♦ Ben Tanner Engineer, Mixing, Organ, Piano, Producer, Vocals (Background)
Review by Steve Leggett; Score: ***½
♦♦ 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. From the opener, "I'm Torn Up," the stage is set for track after track of slow-burning and heart-wrenching soul ballads, a form that is obviously Janeway's specialty. He croons, and roars, and gasps, and groans, and slides through these songs like the second coming of Al Green, somehow smooth and rough and raw all at the same time, pure emotion tempered with a dose of gospel spark, and there's no denying this is his show. The band's churchy, street-corner horn band sound is punchy enough to give Janeway all the heat and steam he needs, but also in-check enough not to crowd him, and songs like "Call Me," "Broken Bones & Pocket Change," the stomping "Sugar Dyed," and the charming little soul waltz "It's Midnight," which closes things out, really do sound like they come from another era when secular gospel was just becoming known as soul. It's a refreshing sound, even though it does nothing new. If there's a flaw to this fine debut album, it's that most of the songs are slow-moving, wrenching ballads, powerful if taken one by one, and Janeway wrings everything out of them, but they tend to fall into the same emotional groove. A couple more "who cares, let's dance"-type upbeat songs might have made this a smoother and more varied listen, but that's really a quibble, since voices like Janeway's only come around once in a great while. This debut album is pretty good, and this band shows a lot of heart. With a singer like Janeway, there's no reason to think that things won't just get bigger and better for this band.
By Brent Faulkner; 27 February 2014; Score: 8
♦♦ 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. St. Paul (aka Paul Janeway) leads the charge of the soul-band, delivering truly amazing, gut-wrenching vocal performances. Unafraid to get “down and dirty” with it, Janeway’s Pentecostal influence coupled with a love for James Brown, translates nearly perfectly on Half the City.
♦♦ Opener “I’m Torn Up” has authenticity written all over it — from its vintage-sounding production, thoughtful love-oriented songwriting, and St. Paul’s riled up, gritty lead vocals. The emotion of Janeway’s growl has that primitive, raucous nature similar to past soul and funk artists. Slow in tempo, and characterized by its grinding nature, St. Paul & the Broken Bones definitely set the tone for Half the City with “I’m Torn Up”. “Don’t Mean a Thing” proceeds soundly, kicking off with a sick instrumental introduction and continuing St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ nod to the ‘70s. The memorable horn-driven section returns upon each refrain, underneath Janeway’s powerful, ad-libbing gospel-tinged lead. “Call Me” caps off the sweet opening trio, with an infectious energy, again driven by the jubilance and enthusiasm of the front man.
♦♦ “Like a Mighty River” picks right up where things left off, with Janeway making the proclamation that the love is just that — “like a mighty river”. Oozing with considerable personality and further accentuated by a cooking band (particularly those horn riffs), describing the cut as fiery might be an understatement. Sure, there is an over-the-top element, but one literally can relate to the passion exhibited. The passion continues on the downer “That Glow” which opens with a dark, edgy guitar riff supporting the sentiment. Depressingly arranged horns contribute to the moodiness, with Janeway confirming the heartbreak on lyrics such as “I lost my senses / For that child that went away / I carried all my sorrow / To my resting place.” ♦♦ Amongst the moodiest cuts, “That Glow” may be glum, but alluringly so.
♦♦ As notable as “That Glow” is, “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” is better, ranking among the albums’ best. Another impassioned grinder, St. Paul & the Broken Bones milk every ounce of emotion out of it. The lyricism is where the “bread is buttered” for the band here. “Broken bones and pocket change,” Janeway howls, “This heart is all she left with me.” Later on the bridge, Janeway further confesses and confirms how badly broken love has devastated him: “Music died and it let me go / Said goodbye to my poor soul / The melody, why have you forsaken me.” If Janeway was at his breaking point on “Broken Bones and Pocket Change”, he’s insistent that “[she’s] got to love me” on the up tempo “Sugar Dyed”, a stark contrast. A kick up in tempo also helps to eliminate any lingering depression on the brief, but superb joint.
♦♦ Title track “Half the City” keeps the funk rolling right along in all its pleasantness, despite falling short of the “glory” of top echelon cuts. Still, hard to deny the foot tapping and head-nodding incited. If nothing more, the guitar work stands out. “Grass Is Greener” seems to warrant an amen giving its bluesy, rousing nature, another allusion to Janeway’s church background. Even as St. Paul make mention “we put on our Sunday’s best”, he isn’t referencing praise to God, but rather begs and pleads with his lover “the grass ain’t greener”, even as she ditches him. He knows “we’ll never be married.” Following another solid track in “Let It Be So”, “Dixie Rothko” exhibits a positive outlook narratively, despite the wrongs within the relationship. Ultimately, Janeway sings it best: “I know we gonna make it”. “It’s Midnight” closes the album confessional style with Janeway admitting to this sins: “I’ve been bad, I’ve been bad, I’ve been bad!”
♦♦ Ultimately, Half the City is a captivating, exceptional soul album. In a day and age where authenticity is questioned, St. Paul and the Broken Bones smash any doubts. ♦♦ Half the City is not an innovative affair, but given its retro-tinge, it doesn’t need to be. By all means, the goal of keeping “soul” alive and flourishing is easily accomplished here.
|St. Paul & The Broken Bones — Half the City (2014)|