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Southern Soul Band Brings Gospel-Tinged Sounds to Stern Grove

By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Over the course of nearly a decade since forming, Birmingham, Ala.-based soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones has risen from total obscurity to national acclaim thanks to their transcendent, gospel-tinged stage show and a string of stellar albums and EPs.

Talented vocalist Paul Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips had first worked together in more indie-oriented blues-rock outfit The Secret Dangers, garnering positive notices for their fiery live performances and Janeway's undeniably powerful delivery. The singer would explore a similar style with another band -- The Strife Rifle -- but eventually re-teamed with Phillips in 2012 to found St. Paul and the Broken Bones and began explore a more traditional southern soul sound.

Bringing on Browen Lollar (the former guitarist from Jason Isbell's backing band, the 400 Unit), drummer Andrew Lee and horn players Ben Griner (trombone), and Allen Branstetter (trumpet) to fill out the group they christened St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the musicians wrote material that highlighted Janeway's potent Otis Redding-inspired vocals. The following year, the band self-released their first songs on the EP Greetings from St. Paul and the Broken Bones before playing a live show, but it didn't take long for them to build a reputation as an intense performing unit.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones Perform "Half the City" | Southern Living by Southern Living on YouTube

For their full-length debut, the group tracked tunes at the legendary Fame Studios in Mussel Shoals, working with Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner as producer and inviting noted Memphis organ player Al Grimes to contribute (he would join the band as a full-time member early in 2014). The resulting album Half the City on Single Lock Records earned rave reviews for Janeway's soul-baring Pentacostal fervor and the band's swinging, slinky grooves.

While some of the vintage-sounding cuts like opener "I'm Torn Up" and "That Glow" hew closer to the slow-burning style of Al Green or late soul great O.V. Wright, the band's live performances have always proved they have no shortage of funk and grit to their material. The group would be invited to play numerous late-night talk shows and became a regular attraction on the festival circuit, making scorching appearances at both Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands in San Francisco.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones - All I Ever Wonder (Official Video) by StPBrokenBonesVEVO on YouTube

Janeway's lyrics touched on more introspective and political subject matter on the group's sophomore effort Sea of Noise in 2016 that garnered the outfit another round of critical praise. While still leaning heavily on the classic Stax/Motown soul template, the band would further update its sound on its third album Young Sick Camellia two years later with its flashes of more modern pop-funk and flashes of disco influence.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones - "Apollo" (2019 XPoNential Music Festival) by WXPN on YouTube

Like most touring bands, St. Paul and the Broken Bones spent much of the pandemic in a forced hiatus. However, the group decided to revisit its roots with its first socially distanced performance, staging a hometown show at the Avondale Brewery -- the same venue where they played their first ever show -- and playing their debut album in full. A live recording from that performance was just released this weekend for the July 17 drop of Record Store Day. The outfit makes a welcome return to San Francisco this weekend to headline at Stern Grove Sunday afternoon. Like-minded Seattle soul/funk crew the Dip and popular SF selector DJ Omar (Popscene, Leisure) warm up the crowd.

Stern Grove Festival: St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Sunday, July 18, 2 p.m. Free (reservations required)
Stern Grove

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