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St. Paul, Shovels & Rope meet expectations, no matter who opened

Lawn on D, Boston, June 14, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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This was the kind of double bill that was so strong - St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Shovels & Rope - that it was not all that clear which of the southern groups should have been the headliner.

It turned out that the soulful, sometimes funky St. Paul was the top gun in a fun, engaging show that left a few in the crowd still dancing after it was over.

Shovels & Rope is the duo of husband-and-wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. They occupy a raw space of rock, rootsy, almost garage sounding, vaguely southern at times (at least when it comes to themes) and just a tad country at times.

Trent and Hearst have had a good thing going for a long time. Hearst assumed more of the lead singing, no surprise given that she has a stronger vocal delivery than her husband.

As per usual, the two trades instruments, typically switching off between drums and guitar. Trent sometimes played keyboards as well while drumming. All in a night's work for Shovels & Rope.

Rough sounding as it might be, Shovels & Rope continue to deliver honest, heartfelt music.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones is fronted by the wonderfully flamboyant Paul Janeway. The former bank teller from Birmingham, Ala. wore a red suit with black and white checkerboard lapels and similarly styled side seam stripes. Then, there were the golden shoes with black designs.

Not to mention literally going underneath the drum stand curtain and continue singing out of view of the crowd.

Or Janeway's shimmy shaking, thrusting his arms out to the crowd like some sort of preacher looking for a response. (That would have made sense on perhaps the band's biggest song, "Sanctify," which closed out the regular set, although Janeway had things besides religion on his mind).

But if one surmised that this was all bark and no bite, they'd be sorely mistaken. First and foremost, Janeway has an affinity for the material he sings in his high-pitched delivery. It's more than a bit James Brown-oriented, very soulful, both southern and of the blue-eyed variety. Also a bit on the jazz side.

Yet, St. Paul was far more than its lead singer. A very punchy three-piece horn section of trumpet, trombone and especially sax boosted the soul quotient considerably. Lead guitarist Browan Lollar contributed a lot of sharp, stinging licks, and drummer Andrew Lee and bassist Jesse Phillips manned the bottom quite well.

Covering Radiohead ("The National Anthem") and Tame Impala ("Eventually"), St. Paul showed musical dexterity.

It all added up to a whole lot of joy. That was the operative word for this night from Shovels & Rope and St. Paul & The Broken Bones, which more than lived up to expectations no matter who opened or headlined.