St. Paul & The Broken Bones have timeless sound

St. Paul & The Broken Bones are, left to right, Jesse Phillips, Browan Lollar, Allen Branstetter, Paul Janeway, Andrew Lee, Ben Griner and Al Gamble. (David McClister / Courtesy photo)
St. Paul & The Broken Bones are, left to right, Jesse Phillips, Browan Lollar, Allen Branstetter, Paul Janeway, Andrew Lee, Ben Griner and Al Gamble. (David McClister / Courtesy photo)

By Sean Kelly

At first glance, St. Paul & The Broken Bones could be mistaken for a soul band right out of the ’60s.

They hail from Birmingham, Ala. They have the trombone and trumpet blasting away in the background. They have a vocalist who sounds as if he belongs in a church choir singing the gospel. They even have the band name that highlights the vocalist.

Yes, St. Paul & The Broken Bones fit all the stereotypes of a classic soul band. But it’s not that simple.

The trombone player, Ben Griner, even had a difficult time describing the music the band plays. After failing to find a genre to define the sound, he turned to emotion.

“It’s hard,” Griner said after a pause. “We identify with the Southern tradition of intense, emotional music. Back in the day, that was blues. In the ’50s, it was country. In the ’60s and ’70s, that was soul music. So I think it’s a different thing for everybody. What we’re trying to do is make music with emotion.”

That’s not to say St. Paul & The Broken Bones don’t play soul; in fact, it has a heavy influence over their music. But there is more to St. Paul and the Broken Bones than just soul. They offer a little bit of everything.

Take their song “Grass is Greener.” It starts with a guitar rift reminiscent of southern rock ‘n’ roll that becomes the base of the song. The horns and organ go over the top of the guitar, almost mimicking the Southern rock sound, while the drum and bass lay down a slow country like beat. Then Paul Janeway, aka St. Paul, comes roaring in with his gospel voice to create a song that sounds like some combination of a church choir and rock ‘n’ roll. Much more complicated than just classic soul music; it’s something more modern.

“We’re trying to make what we think of as soul music in the context of the 21st century,” Griner said recently in advance of the band’s sold-out concert at the Boulder Theater on Tuesday. “Maybe it doesn’t sound like it wasn’t written in the ’60s. Hopefully people will identify this as soul that was written in 2015. We are trying to make it feel modern, not something vintage.”

Finally, Griner was on a roll while discussing St. Paul’s music.

“I don’t think we are intentionally incorporating anything with the intention of having soul mixed with blank (genre),” Griner said. “I’d say soul, rock and R&B is all incorporated in there. I think there’s totally times where we don’t sound like a soul band; sometimes it has a little more feel of rock.

“Soul music, I don’t think, is a specific type of sound. When soul music started to catch on, they had guys who were writing country music and they’d bring in the guy who could sing a soul song. I think it’s really more about how it feels and how it makes people feel.”

After one listen to St. Paul & The Broken Bones, it’s difficult not to feel something. Janeway’s voice casts a spell over the listener. The most striking part about Janeway is the intensity with which he sings. His passion bleeds into his voice — and into his performance — as he shimmies around stage like Otis Redding. Unsurprisingly, Janeway actually draws his musical inspiration from church.

“Paul, when he was a kid, he grew up in church, and he wanted to be a preacher,” Griner said. “He would give sermons as a teenager. He grew up with gospel, country and old soul music. So I think growing up, he was just singing along with and wanted to sound like them.”

The band has been around for two years but recently has started to gain attention, including an appearance on the “Late Show with Dave Letterman” a few weeks ago. They have released one album, which they recorded live, titled Half the City.

Before their performance, Letterman said the first time he heard St. Paul & The Broken Bones play, “I screamed until I cried.”

And that seems to be exactly what the band is striving for, no matter how you describe the music.

If you go

What: St. Paul & The Broken Bones, with Sean Rowe

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10

Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder

Tickets: $20-$22 (sold out)

Info: 303-786-7030 or

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