St Paul & The Broken Bones

Performing: St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

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Grit, elemental rhythm, tight-as-a-drumhead playing, and a profound depth of feeling: these are the promises of a great soul band. And St. Paul & The Broken Bones deliver on those promises.

Half The City is the compelling full-length Single Lock/Thirty Tigers debut of the Birmingham, Alabama-based sextet, who have already created a maelstrom of interest with their roof-raising live shows and self-released four-song 2012 EP. Produced by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, and recorded and mixed in the storied R&B mecca of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the album harkens back to the region’s classic soul roots while
extending the form with electrifying potency.

Front man Paul Janeway’s handle “St. Paul” is a wry allusion to the vocalist’s grounding in the church. Like many a legendary soul singer, Janeway, a native of the small town of Chelsea, Alabama, was raised on the gospel side, in a non-denominational, Pentecostalleaning local church. Virtually no non-religious music could be heard in his devout household. Janeway says, “The only secular music that I heard at all was a ‘70s group called the Stylistics, and Sam Cooke. That was about it. The rest of it was all gospel music. When I was about 10 years old, I was groomed to be a minister. My goal in life until I was about 18 years old was to be a preacher.”

He adds, “My pastor was the reason that I learned to play guitar. They would let me play guitar and sing in church. What was weird was that he would never let me sing lead – I’d sing background vocals. I always thought, ‘Well, maybe I’m just a good background vocalist.’ So I never thought I could really, really sing, at all. I never thought it would be a
living, ever.”

Though his time in the church exposed Janeway to key influences in gospel music – the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Alex Bradford, Clay Evans – he began moving away from his youthful path in his late teens. He began attending open mic nights in Birmingham’s clubs and diversified his listening, excited by some decidedly left-of-center talents. “Tom Waits and Nick Cave were the really big attractions,” he says. “They have that passion.

They’ve built this aura. They’re showmen to the teeth. And that’s what got me – it’s like going to church, in a weird way. At about the same time, I began listening to the great soul singers like Otis Redding, James Carr, and O.V. Wright. I was trying to find something that made my earbuds tingle.”

Seeking his musical comfort zone, Janeway had an incongruous stint in a band that played Led Zeppelin covers, but, he confesses today, “That’s not what I do.” However, his early work in the rock vein brought him together with bassist Jesse Phillips. The pair became close friends and were soon writing together; “Sugar Dyed,” “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” and “That Glow,” all heard on Half The City, were among the first fruits
of their collaboration.

The other members of the Broken Bones are all drawn from Alabama’s deep talent pool. Guitarist Browan Lollar, from the Muscle Shoals area about 100 miles north of Birmingham, previously played with Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit. “We never thought Browan would ever be interested in this band – he was too big-time for us,” says Janeway.
“Jesse had met him while he was on tour with another band out of Birmingham. He asked Browan to come to the studio, and he showed up. I think we caught him at the right time. He wasn’t busy, and he said, ‘Man, I really want to be a part of this.’”

Jasper, Alabama, native Andrew Lee signed on via his acquaintance with Phillips. “We just picked him up on the way to the studio,” Janeway recalls. “Jesse said, ‘I know this guy, why don’t I just call him.’ And 30 minutes later, he’s sitting there playing drums on ‘Sugar Dyed.’ Andrew’s just a hell of a drummer.” Brass players Allen Branstetter and Ben Griner are both graduates of the music program at Birmingham’s Samford University. Janeway says his vision of the band always called for a two-man horn
section, a la the celebrated Memphis Horns, and he approached Griner, although the latter’s main instrument was tuba. “I told Ben, ‘Man, I’ve got to have horns. Do you think you can play trombone?’ He said, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ And he brought Allen with him.”

All six members share writing credit on 10 of the songs on Half The City, with Janeway contributing lyrics. “We firmly believe in a shared, communal writing process,” the singer says.

Half The City – vital, direct, emotionally affecting – presents the same engaged, high voltage, in-the-pocket sound that St. Paul & The Broken Bones produce at their live dates, where Janeway’s extroverted performing style enraptures his audiences.

“I’m going to be dancing, getting in the aisles, climbing on tables,” he says. “That’s just the way we do it. It really takes me back to church. There’s not a lot of difference. When I get on stage, it’s, ‘All right, it’s time to pour it on.’” 

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