Album Reviews

St. Paul and The Broken Bones

Modern grooves and soul roots

Artist:     St. Paul and The Broken Bones

Album:     Sea of Noise

Label:     Records

Release Date:     9/09/2016

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Jesse Phillips and Paul Janeway, former soul/punk bandmates (the Secret Dangers), met for one last studio project before focusing on their day jobs. “But then something just clicked and we walked out of there with something,” Janeway has said. They formed a soul band and recorded an EP before playing a single show. That chutzpah is the band’s superpower. It’s daring and expensive to tour a new band of eight, hoping to fill big venues. It’s gutsy to address modern issues, even though soul music has explored contemporary questions from its beginnings. The second full album from Birmingham, Alabama band St. Paul and The Broken Bones features modern grooves and unmistakable soul roots that will appeal to fans of Alabama Shakes or Otis Redding.

Janeway’s gritty baritenor has exciting, high overtones. He shares songwriting duties with his bandmates: Jesse Phillips (Bass), Browan Lollar (Guitars, Vocals), Andrew Lee (Drums, Percussion), Allen Branstetter (Trumpet), Al Gamble (Organ, Piano), Jason Mingledorff (Sax, Flute), Chad Fisher (Trombone). Janeway has said his aim was to write unified lyrics, to explore his Southern sense of self, not to write a political album. Yet “I’ll Be Your Woman” seems political, with millennials exploring gender as a fluid concept. “I can’t bury your past. We just hold on each day,” he sings, “I’ll be your woman, yes, I will.” Maybe he’s simply telling a story.

“Is It Me” takes flight in a quietly appealing arrangement of mostly brass. “I am in your spaceship. There are Saturn’s rings. Is it hell, is it home, or Is It Me?” With driving rhythms and pulsing horns, “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)” and “Midnight on the Earth” recall Earth, Wind & Fire. But emotional vocals are often buried under beautiful, thick production. Producer Paul Butler (Devendra Banhart) makes an organ, a singer and a choir sound like the futuristic cry of a divided nation in a strange and scary election year. “All I Ever Wonder, will we make it through? I can’t tell which side I’m on. We ain’t never gonna sing one song.” Is this how the campaign looks from down South? “Jesus found his politics but nobody ever listens,” Janeway sings, “Velvet fist in the gut while everyone is slinging mud.”

In a second stripped-down arrangement with wonderful horns, “All I Ever Wonder” is actually stronger than the full version. But the lyrics prove ironic: “Everyone seems to shout. But we get lost in the sound.” Did all the big, beautiful production get in the way of the lead vocals and the lyrics, “…or Is It Me?”

– Annie Dinerman

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