Sometimes what you see is not always what you get. When St. Paul & the Broken Bones hit the stage you are staring at a bunch of mild mannered dudes but when the horn section erupts, the soulful rhythms burst in and lead singer Paul Janeway slides onto the stage you realize there is something special about to happen.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones (SP&BB) is a band like few others. Reared on gospel music before an infusion of classic southern soul completed his musical upbringing, Janeway was born and bred to be a singer. His stage presence is a big part of their live shows almost overshadowing the brilliance of the music. Don’t let his mild demeanor fool you, when he takes the mike he is possessed by the ghosts of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Solomon Burke belting out tunes and dancing around the stage like James Brown. It is not all about him though, because the band that has been assembled amplifies the singer’s impact. Guitar virtuosos Browan Lollar effortlessly manipulates his instrument creating the focus of their music while Andrew Lee (drums) and Jesse Phillips (bass) deliver the smooth rhythms that hold it all together. The boisterous horn section of Alan Branstetter and Ben Griner adds that something extra taking the music from just another band to something soulful.
On the back of a self released EP and relentless touring SP&BB have built a rabid fan base that will follow them to the ends of the earth and have been anxiously awaiting the first full length album from their favorite musicians. The wait is now over as their debut LP – Half The City – has arrived chock full of all the southern soul you can handle. Kicking off with one of the best tracks on the record, “I’m Torn Up” sucks the listeners in with sultry horns and Janeway’s explosive vocals. As he sings about the troubles with love the song becomes more intense bringing listeners to the edge of their seat before dissipating into nothing. The reoccurring theme of the 12 track album is love; getting it (“Call Me”), losing it (“Broken Bones and Pocket Change”), or holding on to it (“Sugar Dyed”). There is a gospel feel to the music which is to be expected and two songs bring religion to the forefront. A loving couple following the lord and building a life together details “Let It Be So” while “It’s Midnight” is an emotional song about a mother pleading to her son to find god and all will be well. Both songs get into your head possessing the ability to make you think about your own life. In your face horns that attack your senses starts my favorite song, “Don’t Mean A Thing”. This song brings everything SP&BB are all about together. The music makes it impossible to sit still and when Janeway starts wailing you can feel it deep in your soul.
This record is just brilliant through and through. There is not a single lull in the album and when it starts playing you will pray it never ends. SP&BB have captured the essence of their live shows in Half The City which is part of the charm. The emotion, the fine tuned soulful music, the Muscle Shoals flavor and influence of producer Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) is the rest of what makes it so damn good. This is the best record I have listened to this year and with ten months to go I find it hard that anyone will out do it.