No Bones About It
Saturday night, the rain poured down, and a waterlogged Spin stumbled into The Basement to find hardly a square inch of floor space to drip on. We had already missed opener Takaya, but based on the intel we received from our photog about her Aretha-inspired style, we will be taking pains to rectify that as soon as possible. At the stroke of 10, Birmingham, Ala.'s St. Paul and the Broken Bones were a few songs into their set, and just beginning to cook.
As contributor Jewly Hight explained in last week's feature, leader "St." Paul Janeway's livelihood is on the line, and he sang like he knew it, testifying with every fiber of his being. Acknowledging that Nashville is not known for overwhelming audience participation, Janeway didn't wait around for a response: He barreled right out into the crowd to get it. He dipped, spun and swayed in time with his own clock, followed every step of the way by the watchful Broken Bones. In days when it feels like everyone and everything is hungry to capitalize on your enthusiasm for their own purposes, there are plenty of reasons to keep your guard up. Cheek to cheek with a hundred or so strangers in this low-ceilinged club, St. Paul served an invigorating reminder that it's not just OK, but necessary, to open up and grab life with both hands.
One face we recognized in the crowd was recent Road to Bonnaroo winner Alanna Quinn-Broadus of Alanna Royale, clearly taking notes on this ball of fire as Janeway ripped through a spot-on Otis-style "Respect." With the body heat in the room unable to dissipate through the humidity, Janeway and his ace band had to be dripping sweat through their signature suits, but in the tradition of their Stax, Fame, King and Atlantic forefathers, no way would they let a little discomfort cramp their style. As the set drew to a close with a cover of Tom Waits' "Make It Rain," guitarist Browan Lollar got to show off with a searing blues solo, and we took note that his tone bites a little harder than most soul men we know.
As Janeway bases his style on James Brown, James Carr and other gospel-schooled entertainers from the early waves of soul, it's part of his gig to get on the good foot and let you see just how hard he works. DeRobert Adams doesn't put in any less sweat equity, but like the last time we saw him (guesting with The Right Now at a Mercy Lounge gig) De made it look easy, his powerful voice shaking the room from his center-stage command post in spite of a battle with allergies. Riding a funky groove that pulls from Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone and the Philadelphia sound courtesy of Gamble and Huff, backing band the Half-Truths' set felt less like a firecracker and more like a candle (or something else) that's been lit and left to burn.
Sporting a new guitar player who reminded us a little of Wes Montgomery, the Half-Truths were locked in as tight as ever, and we were certainly inspired to shake a hip or two, despite having to use our crew-neck sweater as a soul-dancing sweat towel. When we retreated from the front toward the end of the set, we were shocked to realize that most of the crowd had thinned out, but the remaining crew hung at the lip of the stage, drinking in every note. As a wise colleague once pointed out, there's rarely a time when soul music is something we don't want to hear — solid grooves and an emotional safety-vent are almost always surefire cures for whatever has you down. Whether that soul comes from Brooklyn, San Francisco, Magic City or our own back yard, it's good to know it's alive and well.