By Jim Bloch
Paul Janeway, the lead singer of the soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, looks like the shoe salesman he once was in his home state of Alabama. Short. White. Chubby. Balding with a comb-over.
He doesn’t possess an abundance of physical rhythm. Instead of dancing, he paces back and forth on stage as he sings. Instead of dancing, he strikes dance poses.
But the man can sing. His falsetto crooning recalls Smokey Robinson and Brittany Howard. When he goes scream-o, you can hear echoes of Al Green and Otis Redding.
“Oh my, did you lose your cool?” Janeway sings on the 2022 song “Minotaur” from the band’s album “Alien Coast,” which extended the group’s retro-soul sound in new directions, incorporating psychedelic rock and disco-like tunes like “The Last Dance.”
Be sure of one thing. Janeway and his eight-piece outfit from Birmingham has lost none of their cool. The band played a high energy show at the Royal Oak Music Theater on Oct. 1.
Drummer Kevin Leon took the stage first, laying down a steady beat driven by his stomach-churning bass drum, followed by bassist Jesse Phillips, keyboardist Al Gamble, the three horn players — Allen Branstetter on trumpet, Amari Ansari on sax and Chad Fisher on trombone — and finally guitarist Browan Lollar, each adding an element to the extended funk jam.
Then Janeway made his entrance, executing his dramatic little poses, bringing the crowd to its feet with “Flow With It” from the band’s 2016 album “Sea of Noise,” a clean funk piece with echoes of the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” that set the groove for the night.
“You got me feeling like I can’t hold you,” he sang. “We ain’t gonna fight, let’s flow with it/This feeling I have inside.”
“We became a band about 11 years ago,” Janeway said between songs. “I never thought anything would get me out of Alabama. But here we are in Michigan.”
The band’s new album is “Angels in Science Fiction.”
“It was written in Sept. 2020,” Janeway said. “I became a father for the first time.”
It was six months into the pandemic and nothing was certain.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to live or die,” Janeway said. “It was kind of terrifying.”
He sang “Lonely Love Song” from the new album, a lullaby he composed in honor of his daughter with Phillips playing acoustic guitar.
“Death ain’t what scares me,” Janeway sang. “It’s missing all that love that you give me/I spend most of my life/Proving to the world I am worth your time.”
The band played a ballad by Jeff Buckley, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.”
Buckley drowned while swimming in the Mississippi River in Memphis in 1997 at age 31.
“Yes, I feel too young to hold on/And much too old to break free and run,” sang Janeway, teasing out the similarities in their approaches to the song. “Too deaf, dumb and blind to see the damage I’ve done/Sweet lover, you should’ve come over.”
The parallel intensity and heartache the two renditions of the piece was startling and as he wrapped up the song, Janeway turned his back to the audience and could be heard saying over and over that the song was harder to sing than anyone could imagine.
For the encore, Janeway cocooned his black suit in a blue glitter cape with giant eyeballs on the back. He jumped into the audience and crooned his way up the aisle, high-fiving fans, strutting around the bar at the back of the main floor, and popping out in the balcony, draping his leg over the rail and singing his brains out.
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.