When Paul Janeway steps up to the microphone and opens his mouth, Otis Redding comes out. It's not what you expect. Janeway is a young white guy, bespectacled with a receding hairline, and not particularly tall. He looks like he might be the band's webmaster. But the music hits and “St.” Paul is possessed, pinballing around the stage in a two-piece suit and howling his heartfelt lyrics. He sweats up a storm, convulses on the floor, and refuses to let “Try a Little Tenderness” come to an end without bringing it back for one more run through the chorus.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones are plugged into the strong contemporary Alabama music scene. Their record Half the City was produced by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, released by a label owned by John Paul White of The Civil Wars, and guitarist Browan Lollar was a member of Jason Isbell's 400 Unit. The tight sextet created a record begging for a spin on vinyl, packed to the brim with warm guitars and Stax horns. Lead single “Call Me” has been a public radio staple all year, and every element is borrowed from somewhere else--the sound, the title, even the use of a phone number in the chorus. But it’s such delicious theft, perfect soul pastiche. And they can seemingly apply it to anything; at Bonnaroo, I witnessed them run through Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” as if it had been recorded in Muscle Shoals in the late 60’s.
It’s been a good decade for the soul revival. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are festival mainstays, and they’ve pulled artists like Lee Fields, Charles Bradley, and Sonny Knight along with them. It’s hard to say whether the Broken Bones are an outlier (Janeway is half the age of the aforementioned frontmen-and-women) or the start of a younger wave of soul groups. Either way, they’ve struck gold, a huge credit to their taut interplay and creative collaboration (all six members get writing credit for the entire record).
Paul Janeway grew up planning to become a preacher. He’s discussed how his relationship with the church has grown more complicated over the years, but he still gets to play the part onstage, riling the crowd into a frenzy night after night. They're not breaking any new ground in the studio, but St. Paul and the Broken Bones are one of the most vibrant, exciting live bands working today. At the end of the first long night of Midpoint 2014, they should be just the burst of energy you need to power through.