Spotify Con: sneaking in a song like “Call Me Maybe” into a playlist comprised of what should only be the new St. Vincent album when listening to Spotify non-premium on my mobile device.
Spotify Pro: the “Discover” feature. Sometimes misleading, but sometimes helpful.
I had heard about St. Paul & the Broken Bones, but really only in the wind as an up and coming band and a band you should check out and one of those band’s on a festival bill with an interesting name. Beyond that though, I didn’t know much about them. Didn’t know the style of music they play, where they were from, how many albums they had released. I really didn’t know anything about them.
No, no I didn’t.
But now I do. Thanks to Spotify. Thanks to the Internet.
St. Paul of St. Paul and the Broken Bones is the lead singer, the singer who if you closed your eyes, could be mistaken for Otis Redding or Al Green. Yet if you open your eyes, he looks like neither. He looks like a astute scholar of both, inspired by their passion and the soul that lived so vicariously through their vocals. St. Paul, street name Paul Janeway, grew up bible-thumpin’ in Alabama, surrounded by gospel music and harboring aspirations to become a preacher. Then, like most of us, he deviated from his youthful plans in his teens, taking a turn towards open mic nights instead of bible study and choir practice. He started listening to my man Otis, as well as other soul singing luminaries. Beyond his specs, his eyes were opening wider and wider. His future wasn’t in a Led Zeppelin cover band, though. Actually no one’s future is. But that’s another story; a story not solely limited to the story of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. His future was soul music.
The Broken Bones are six dudes- guitar, bass, keys, drums and horns. Bass playing dude met Janeway around the time of the ill-fated Zeppelin cover band. The rest of the fellas joined after, some joined on the way to the studio. The studio in question- Muscle Shoals, which is kind of a big deal in some circles. The producer was the drummer for the Alabama Shakes.
The sound is pure vintage soul.
Half the City, released earlier this year, is the band’s full length debut. Ten songs, wrapped up in a little over a half an hour, the album is a complete, wonderful joy. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re just making a wheel of their own, using the blue print the soul legends before them etched in stone. Janeway lets his preacher-freak flag fly, especially live, where he seems to be communing with the audience. Just holy shit, that voice. It’s cooler than eating pancakes on a rainy summer morning.
The band is tight, no one trying to step out of bounds. It’s as if a vision was laid out and they all signed some kind of blood oath to up hold it. A band of soul soldiers- all of them in it to do their part. They are not a backing band, but dudes on equal footing with their magnetic front man- which is no easy task.
A few years ago, Mayer Hawthrone made some waves by doing the neo-soul thing. And for a short time, it was enjoyable enough. Kind of always felt like karaoke, though. It didn’t feel real enough. It didn’t feel like St. Paul and the Broken Bones feel, which is genuine. No knock on Hawthrone. He was doing it by himself up in Detroit. That only got him so far, th0ugh. Like trying to have a band without a bass player. It’ll provide a spark, but not a flame. Janeway came into Muscle Shoals rolling deep with the Broken Bones and it worked out well, so very, very well. You can do some stuff on your own, some stuff you can’t. If you want to make some honest to God soul music, you need a crew. You need numbers. It’s not enough to have the voice or the heart, you need the rich background a hard as nails backing band provides. That’s what separates St. Paul and the Broken Bones from the rest of the neo-soul cats out there. That’s what makes them that much more appealing. That’s what makes them sound so effin’ awesome.
Check out Half the City, see for yourself.
Gifs: Funny or Die