Paul Janeway, lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, suggests that his band could have followed up their acclaimed debut album, Half The City in quicker succession. But he views the group’s recently released follow-up, Sea of Noise as a case of better things coming to those who wait.
“I think had we written that (second) record in October 2014, I think we would have made Half The City Part 2. And I didn’t want that,” Janeway said in recent phone interview. “Whether it was fair or not, we’d kind of been cast with the retro soul thing. And we were just kind of like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but for us, our musical tastes, especially now, ran much further than that. So it was just like let’s open up the musical palette and really explore that.
“I think that was the goal,” he said. “Whether that was accomplished or not, I don’t know, but it felt good. I’m proud.”
The group is among the first performers at the newly reopened Miller Theater, taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12. Tickets are $33.50-$39.50 by calling (800) 514-3849, at the box office at 708 Broad St. or online at millertheateraugusta.com.
Chances are listeners will agree that St. Paul and the Broken Bones took a significant step forward musically on Sea of Noise.
The classic soul roots of the group that were so prominent on Half The City are still plenty apparent on the new album, but the songs draw on a wider range of styles and the music overall is richer and more layered. There are hints of Sly &the Family Stone in Midnight on the Earth, but there’s also gritty rock in this song, which builds to a powerful finish. The ballad I’ll Be Your Woman (a song that lyrically flips gender roles on their head) has pop elements that could work for Burt Bacharach within its otherwise darker-hued primary melody. The ballad Waves feels a bit like the Black Keys meeting up with Memphis soul.
Sea of Noise is also more assertive. Where Half The City was almost entirely made up of ballads and medium-paced tunes, the tempos get notched up on All I Ever Wonder (an edgy tune that bursts out in epic crescendos), the dramatic, string-laden Brain Matter and Tears in the Diamond, which sounds like a prime Al Green tune.
It makes sense that Sea of Noise would show musical growth. St. Paul and the Broken Bones were about as new as a band can get when Half The City was written and recorded.
It all started when bassist Jesse Phillips, who had been in a band with Janeway, got some free studio time and invited Janeway to come over for the day. When they wrote the stirring and soulful horn-laced song Broken Bones &Pocket Change, Janeway and Phillips knew they were onto something.
So they quickly assembled a band to make a debut EP, Greetings From St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Phillips knew guitarist Browan Lollar (a former member of Jason Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit) as well as drummer Andrew Lee. Janeway approached trombonist Ben Griner, who then recruited trumpet player Allen Branstetter to join the group.
Keyboardist Al Gamble then completed the original lineup, which later expanded to include Jason Mingledorff (saxophone, clarinet, flute) and Chad Fisher (trombone), who has since replaced Griner.
The group members then turned their attention to making Half The City, but had to rush the project – writing eight new songs to go with four from the EP in November and December 2012, and then going into the studio in January 2013 to record because producer Ben Tanner (keyboardist with the Alabama Shakes) had only a month available to work on the album.
“I tell people this all the time, we were a band less than five months when we made that record,” Janeway said.
Obviously, the band members were much more familiar with each other going into Sea of Noise, having spent two-plus years on tour to promote the first album. The group also made sure to take the necessary time writing and recording.
“It was a better experience than the first time for me personally because I got to think about what I was doing,” Janeway said. “I got to really ask like ‘Is something being said (in a song), and if it’s being said, what is it?’ — that kind of thing. And I didn’t have that chance with Half The City. And it gave that record a sense of urgency, which was good. I think that’s what stands out about it. But for me it was just nice to really let this stuff marinate.”
The music from Sea of Noise is now making its presence felt in the live shows being played by St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
“I think it’s making it more robust. I think it’s kind of expanding where we can go, which is really nice,” Janeway said of the new album’s impact on the live show. “It’s still got the energy. It’s just, we’re getting to explore musically in the set because Sea of Noise is more full bodied.”