Half the City by St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Well if there was any question, rest assured that Alabama still has some quality music to contribute to the world.
St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a seven-piece soul outfit out of Birmingham. Now if you're unfamiliar, do me a solid: imagine Earth, Wind, and Fire. Horn players, drummer, bass and guitar, backup singers right? Lots of afros, funk, and sweat. St. Paul is on par except for one thing: all white guys.
Based on sound alone, you'd never know.
Paul Janeway (singer) has got more soul in his pinky than I do in my entire body. Obviously time travel does exist, because he sounds like he just flew in from soul's golden era.
"I'm Torn Up" is the record's opener. No messing around here. Deep soulful lyrics that have a very Bill Withers-esque vibe, plenty of growling (think James Brown), and with some tasteful horn parts to boot. Nice to hear that the groups instrumentalists can lay it down too.
Next is "Don't Mean a Thing." The horn players get to go in on this one, but honestly it's not my favorite. I just don't like the sound. To me it never decides on whether its a shuffling Texas blues soul-ballad or a horn-infused ska-rock-thing. I can't handle the indecision!
"Call Me" comes in as the records third track and it gives you what you want: uptempo soul with honesty and sincerity. This one has Aretha written all over it. From the address to a single love to the repetition in the shout chorus, this one would fit as easily on an LP as the soundtrack for Blues Brothers.
Next up is "Like a Mighty River." This is one of my favs. Dirty, unpolished, funky, soul. One of the best parts about this record is that is doesn't ooze modern, polished, pop. Granted I don't know the guys in the group personally, but the record sounds so honest. This song is no exception. I get the honesty in every trumpet stab, every cymbal crash, and every growl and moan. We talkin' 'bout love ya'll!
"That Glow" follows "Mighty River," and this one took me a while to get into. Similarly to "Don't Mean a Thing," this one almost didn't pick a sound for too long. We're back into swampy shuffle-land, but with a little more consistency. Favorite part about this song? Tambourine. Check it out.
"Broken Bones and Pocket Change" is the closest to Al Green we've gotten so far. Or maybe Bill Withers. Either one is great I suppose. Mellow instruments give Janeway plenty of space to do his thing until the second chorus. Love this tune. This is one where belting it in the car is a requirement - ya know, until you realize that you're not Paul Janeway and you can't do that... Still a great song that wraps up the downside of love in a fun package. A similar track to this one is "Grass is Greener." Both are worth multiple listens.
Track seven: "Sugar-Dyed." This is another one that would be perfect as a Jake and Elwood dance number. Even though the last tune was fun, it was still dark in content - "Sugar-Dyed" is a great contrast. Paul sings that "we can't stop what we got" and I agree. Don't you guys stop for one second!
Next up is the disc's title track. This one has a similar vibe to "Dixie Rothco" (second to last track), and both will have your head/neck/fingers/feet moving in no time. Has a very Gavin DeGraw thing in the beginning (think older Gavin, not the new poppy stuff). Some really tight playing by the instrumentalists in this one that gives the listener a chance to hear what these guys are capable of. Whether it's about Birmingham or not, you'll have to decide, but you can rest assured that this one does our city justice.
I mentioned "Grass is Greener" already, so let's talk about "Let It Be So." This is the closest to a real ballad we get on this one. Tina Turner would be proud. Soulful crooning leading to some pretty delicious horn parts in the heavy sections make this feel like it's already a classic.
Last tune from this outstanding record is "It's Midnight." At first listen, I could not believe they'd end the record on a mellow tune, but as per usual, a few extra listens cured my ill. Although this song clocks in under 3:00, there's plenty to hear. As much of a stretch as this may be, this one reminds me of John Mayer's "I'm Gonna Find Another You." Slow, pensive, and for whatever reason, I don't want it to end.
Overall this record from SPBB is a hit. Top to bottom I'm not left wanting anything at all, really I feel like I got plenty more than I bargained for. Just a killer first full-length effort from a group I'm sure we'll be hearing from for a long time. Stand up Birmingham and check it out!