CeCe Winans is a gospel legend, selling millions of albums and garnering ten Grammy Awards. St. Paul & the Broken Bones have taken the music world by storm, rising quickly through the ranks with a distinctive Americana-tinged soul sound. Both artists can raise the roof, and we were thrilled to host both of their debuts on our stage, where the ceiling definitely had trouble staying attached.
Bringing church to ACL, Detroit native Winans and her eleven-piece band opened with a funky New Orleans version of the old classic “When the Saints Go Marching In” that segued into a medley of “Victory is Mine” and “In the Name of Jesus We Have Victory.” Celebratory spirit thus established, she then shifted to new material from her upcoming Let Them Fall in Love, her first album in nine years, out February 3, 2017. The bluesy “Hey Devil!” told Lucifer to get lost with a high-spirited romp that included the chorus of Ray Charles’ gospel-derived “Hit the Road, Jack.” “Run to Him,” a love song to Jesus, brought old school soul to the party, as well as a call-and-response that employed two different counterpoints for Winans to sing over. “Peace From God” rode an easygoing groove as it delivered its message, while “Lowly” added a shot of 70s soul to its rousing call to stay low (because there’s no place to fall). Winans then brought Texas to the gospel equation, with a powerhouse take on Kris Kristofferson’s probing ballad “Why Me Lord” that got the biggest round of applause so far. Barely a second went by before she went into “I Need Thee,” the hymn serving as a coda to “Why Me Lord.” Winans followed with “Never Have to Be Alone,” her latest single and a sky-reaching ballad in the tradition of her late friend Whitney Houston. She closed with “Dancing in the Spirit,” a blazing sing- and dance-along that drove Satan from the building with pure spiritual joy.
But the night wasn’t over yet. Alabama’s St. Paul & the Broken Bones took the stage, singer Paul Janeway decked out in a bright red suit and sparkly golden robe, wailing through “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt.1,” the atmospheric opener to the eight-piece outfit’s second and latest LP Sea of Noise. Janeway doffed his robe and the band launched directly into “Flow With It,” a groovy seduction tune that had the audience in their pockets. The rocking yet grooving “Mighty River” drew right from the Muscle Shoals tradition, Janeway channeling the late, great blue-eyed soul homeboy Eddie Hinton. One flute intro later, the Bones eased into the clever plea “I’ll Be Your Woman.” “This is one of those milestone things,” commented Janeway, before the band performed the mid-tempo gem “Tears in the Diamond.” The band then revisited its 2014 debut album with “I’m Torn Up,” a powerhouse ballad that found Janeway in the crowd, preaching the gospel of heartbreak. The Bones dipped their toes back into the Sea of Noise with the rocking funk of “Midnight On the Earth,” which got the audience shaking their groove thangs with abandon. “Waves” followed, a ballad driven by Browan Lollar’s growling guitar, before St. Paul exercised his thrilling falsetto on the 70s grooves of “All I Ever Wonder.” The Bones ended the main set with the anthemic ballad “Sanctify,” to a wild ovation from the crowd.
The band returned, of course, for a generous encore of three tunes. The warm country soul of “Is It Me,” which Janeway introduced as a lullaby, served as a palette cleanser before the raucous R&B of “Call Me,” another gem from the first Bones LP. The group ended the show with “Burning Rome,” a slow burn ballad that had Janeway pulling out all his vocal stops and wrapping his carpet around his shoulders like a cape. The audience loved it, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcast this winter as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.