The Greening of America
Soul revivalism has been in full swing (ha!) for years now, a movement with sound ranging from the Daptone Records crew all the way through Cee-Lo Green and Janelle Monae’s redolent updates. The newest entry in the field comes from this Birmingham, Alabama sextet, following up their Bandcamp EP Greetings from St. Paul & The Broken Bones with a formal physical debut, the sadly swaying Half the City.
“St. Paul” here is lead vocalist Paul Janeway, born into a religious family and raised on rural church pulpits and podiums. Janeway first developed his guitar and vocal chops in choirs, then in early adulthood took them to open-mic nights. From these limited source (and with backing players of a particular mind) springs a set of modern band-based R&B heavy on descriptive blues and gospel’s passionate delivery.
This band’s closest current sonic familiars might be Charles Bradley and The Extraordinaires. That outfit manages to channel James Brown’s edge; conversely, St. Paul and The Broken Bones seem infinitely more reverent. Run Half the City through scratchy electronic filters and you might easily mistake this for a release by Sam Cooke or Al Green. Often muted and funereal as on “Let It Be So,” the band make a lot of space for Janeway to fill with his exuberantly desperate paeans to love.
“Call Me” and “Sugar Dyed” are rare upbeat moments on this album, but they don’t detract from most other songs like “I’m Torn Up” or “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” hitting a sweet spot as well. Half the City sounds like it could have been made by a whole bunch of other soulful people right now, but it somehow feels appropriate that St. Paul and The Broken Bones were the ones who did.