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St. Paul and the Broken Bones are shaping up as one of 2014’s most impressive DIY stories. The Alabama R&B act nearly sold out the 800-capacity El Rey just two months after a sold-out show at the Troubadour. The concert fell the day after a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and less than a week after a Bonnaroo show in front of 10,000 people.
They have locked in a few minor synchs and sold 43,000 copies of their debut, Half the City, released on the Muscle Shoals indie Single Lock label going through Thirty Tigers and RED for distribution. They have yet to sign with a publisher.
Their appeal, abundantly clear in their 90-minute show at the El Rey, is in their integration of vintage Southern soul styles into a wholly modern rock sound. Whereas Alabama Shakes waded into the swamps, St. Paul and the Broken Bones have gone uptown, balancing lessons learned at closing time on Saturday and in church on Sunday.
Leader Paul Janeway, who studied to be a preacher in a Pentecostal-leaning church, looks like the grown-up version of the kid who won the local science fair in the ninth grade. His energy, on the other hand, draws on the multiple soul greats who recorded in home state – Wilson Pickett, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Otis Redding and Etta James, to name four. He employs preacher techniques in his vocals, pushing sweetness into his high tenor as it cuts through a base of trombone, trumpet, organ and guitar; Janeway has an enviable steadiness in his tone that adds to his conviction, particularly on ballads such as “Broken Bones and Pocket Changes” and his take on the Redding classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”
Impressively, most of the band’s new material can stand up to the covers they drop in, the Wilson Pickett hit “Ninety-nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” Paul McCartney’s grinding “Let Me Roll It” and Redding’s “Respect,” done in the style of his Monterey Pop festival performance from 1967. Stylistically, Janeway echoes Sam Cooke and Etta James, especially when he masterfully teases, grabs and releases the tension on “Dixie Rothko” and “It’s Midnight.”
There’s no doubt guitarist Browan Lollar, a former member of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, is the band leader, his guitar playing prominent and impressive. The only moments when they slip arrive on lesser songs that land in an undistinguished, early ‘70s blues-rock vein.
Don’t Mean a Thing
I’m Torn Up
Respect (Otis Redding cover)
Half the City
Broken Bones and Pocket Change
Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do) (Wilson Pickett cover)
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Otis Redding Cover)
Grass Is Greener
Make It Rain
Let Me Roll It (Paul McCartney and Wings cover)
It’s All Over
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