By Jack Sharkey, August 29, 2014.
It was Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman (via Anthology I) who introduced me to the sounds of Muscle Shoals, and it is St. Paul & the Broken Bones who have brought the sheer joy and ruckus of the Muscle Shoals sound back to me full throttle. But forget the retro-sound, the arrangements, the skillful song writing and the sheer emotion of the band and Paul Janeway's voice...this is a great [insert your own adjective here] record.
- • Released on Single Lock Records February 18, 2014.
- • Produced by Ben Tanner.
- • Engineered by Ben Tanner, Les Nuby.
- • Recorded at The Nutthouse, Ol' Elegante Studios and Up and In Studios.
- • Mixed by Ben Tanner at FAME Studio A.
- • Mastered by Steven Berson at Total Sonic Media.
- • Peaked at #56 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums.
- • Peaked at #9 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums for 2014.
- • Paul Janeway - Vocals
- • Jesse Phillips - Bass
- • Browan Lollar - Guitar, Vocals
- • Andrews Lee - Drums, percussion
- • Allen Branstetter - Trumpet, flugelhorn
- • Ben Griner - Trombone, tuba
- • Al Gamble - Keyboards
- • Ben Tanner - Keyboards
- • Daniel Stoddard - Pedal Steel
- • Jamie Harper - Baritone sax
- • Ron Alexander - Upright bass
I'm almost afraid to put a label on the music on this record lest a vast majority of people reading this piece get instantly turned off to it. Let's just say that the soul of this record is in its raw emotion. The rhythm and blues-y feel of the music touches unlike anything out there masquerading as music that is designed to touch the soul. You gettin' me? Trust me all you kids under 40, you listen to this record and your opinion of the music you've been listening to will change abruptly. And permanently.
Half the City is a human record made by human beings for other human beings. Machines and computers simply cannot make this music, and I don't care how hard you try to argue otherwise. That being said, nowadays without the help of machines and computers, most mere mortals fall by the talent wayside. St. Paul & the Broken Bones are not mere mortals.
The thing that will hit you first: Janeway's wailing is emotional and raw and a fresh change from the stale and boring vocal histrionics and aerobic exercises we are assaulted with on a regular basis on television musical competitions and stale and boring pop and R&B recordings. Try a little tenderness wrapped up in sheer human rawness: you might just become a fan. But it's not just Paul Janeway. There is a band behind him that can play, and that's what makes this record work.
I picked this record up on vinyl because it just felt like the right thing to do.
1. I'm Torn Up (3:37): A melancholy guitar invites a set of melancholy horns to start this record. In this day and age of getting smacked upside the head (musically speaking), a mellow and melancholy song seems a strange choice to open a record, but when Janeway starts to tell his tale of lost love you get it. Indeed Janeway is torn between his broken heart and the assertion that the girl who broke his heart is somehow missing him more than he is missing her...that my friends is what soul music is all about.
2. Don't Mean A Thing (3:06): This is the first song I heard from this record and I was instantly a fan. To those of you who have forgotten: This is what a roomful of musicians sounds like when they're tearing it up without the aid of machines. If you've been listening to a lot of music with synthesized or unnaturally edited horns, it may take a few moments for your ears to adjust to the sound of a natural horn section, but when they do you won't listen to machine-made music the same way ever again. And by the way, nobody ever thanks the bass player. Allow me to personally thank the bass player for the lines he played on this song.
3. Call Me (2:51): You may think you've heard this song before, but you haven't, you have however heard hooks and feels like this before and that's a good thing. All music is a result of that which came before, and what St Paul & the Broken Bones have done, especially in this song, is taken what has made them whole as musicians and turned it into something that is solely their's while at the same time being comforting in its familiarity. It's funny how every song on the radio today sounds the same and we're told that's a good thing, but music that reaches back in its influence is scorned. Seems a little mis-aligned to me.
4. Like A Mighty River (3:23): At this point in the record you are Jonesing for more of what you've heard so far, and this one does not disappoint. It's a little tougher with a little more bravado, and Janeway simply nails it. Speaking of things that don't get the recognition they deserve...listen to the 8th note figures Lee is playing on the hi-hats during the verses and the figures he plays (especially on the kick drum) at the start of the breakdown at the 2:30 mark. It's musicianship like this that dictates the need to be able to hear what the heck is going on in the light and shade of a song.
5. That Glow (3:04): This might be my least favorite track on the song, but that's kind of like having to tell you which is my least favorite Christmas present: It's all relative. On most other records this song would be a feature. And now that I am listening to it fairly critically, I may have to change my opinion, because this may be the type of song that creeps up on you slowly and doesn't let you go after it gets you.
6. Broken Bones & Pocket Change (3:04): Have you ever been treated really poorly by somebody (and no, I don't mean the ornery teenager you bought your coffee from this morning)? I mean really poorly. If you have, this song was written for you. Listen to it in good company. When Janeway sings the chorus, you feel it, way down deep in that place that only music like this can get to.
7. Sugar Dyed (2:28): After getting up to turn the record over, you get back to your seat just in time for the drums and horns to put a smile on your face. In fact, if you don't smile when you listen to this song, we might not be able to be friends anymore.
8. Half the City (3:17): The first two verses of this song might be the single greatest lyric I have ever heard. Half the city indeed. Every guy wishes they were able to sing this song and every girl wishes someone would sing to her like this. It's not fair I tell ya. Listen to the nastiness of Lollar's guitar and tell me you are not inspired.
9. Grass Is Greener (4:14): By this point we're all in need of a rest, and quite frankly we're a tad worried about Janeway. All of that emotion can't be good for a guy in such a short period of time. Good for us, but at what price Paul Janeway, at what price? From the saturated-tube reverb of Lollar's guitar to the sweet church organ, this low-key lamentation is every bit as forceful as every song preceding it. Treat yourself and listen closely to the rhythm section of Phillips and Lee on the back-end of this song, then sit back and smile in the joyful knowledge that great music is still being made.
10. Let It Be So (3:19): They tried to take it down a notch on the previous track and failed miserably (much to our benefit and delight!). Forty seconds in to this one, just as you sit back and try to catch your breath, the band kicks in with a groove that demands you pay attention. Then as if to let us breathe again, the verse takes us back down. Then we're back up for the next chorus. Now we're breathing with the band as we fall into pace with an organ solo that takes us far away from where we normally hang. Three minutes and nineteen seconds of all the ups and downs of life.
11. Dixie Rothko (3:32): They tease us once again with some peace and quiet but we're not going to let them fool us again. Singers on game shows today, let me introduce you to a singer who has all the pipes and ability that you think you have, but this guy knows how to use the tools he has been given...that my friends is the difference between singing and showing off.
12. It's Midnight (2:31): If you listen closely enough, you'll hear what a real piano sounds like with all of its harmonics and overtones and real-ness. This is what music sounds like when it's not dependent on machines and it is glorious! I've been in clubs at midnight, tired and fading away, and I've heard pianos that sound like this, and singers who have sung like this, and horn sections that have intermingled like this, and those were among the best nights of my life. I dare you and your machines to capture that experience for me.
Half the City is best listened to:
- • In a jacket and tie for you menfolk and one of those classy pleated skirts with polka-dots for the ladies
- • Patent leather shoes for both sexes are optional but recommended
- • At a cocktail party, as long as its a cocktail party where the music is louder than all of the mindless chitter-chatter
- • As loud and as late at night as is reasonable considering how your cranky neighbors deal with your re-ignited love of soul music
- • Personally I'd go with at least the 12 year-old Chivas if not the 25
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of KEF or its employees.