From Frank Ocean to Blood Orange, we’re in a golden age of expansive R&B – meaning the bar is high, even for old-school revivalists like Alabama’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones. So it’s gratifying to hear them step up their vision on their second LP. “We’re just crumbling light . . . in a sea of noise,” pleads leader Paul Janeway in the album’s opening moments, cryptically riffing off Winston Churchill over electronic swirls, hallucinated harp arpeggios and heavenly choirs. The song “Crumbling Light Posts” functions as a recurring theme throughout a record that otherwise sticks to more traditional rock & soul territory. It makes a convincing pitch for the enduring power of a classic sound, which the band delivers with startling authority.
The settings are studied and potent: “Midnight on the Earth” conjures Sly Stone funk with a soaring brass finale. “I’ll Be Your Woman” nods to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” via Al Green, with strings arranged by Stax session vet Lester Snell. “All I Ever Wonder” matches Beatles vocal flourishes with vintage Memphis Horns punch, and “Burning Rome” gets all Ouija with Otis Redding fire. On every track, Janeway is a History Channel of R&B vocalizing, thrilling and powerful. He’ll be one worth watching as he moves through the present.