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  • Baltimore City Paper

SXSW Postscript: Soul Survives

In the wake of the Dap-Tones' triumphs with both Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, not to mention the related success by Adele, Charles Bradley, Aloe Blacc and Joss Stone, the retro-soul movement has gathered considerable momentum. So it was no surprise to encounter plenty of old-school R&B artists—both young and old—at this year's South by Southwest Music Conference. Seeing several such acts in a few days provided a lesson in the right way and the wrong way to handle this music. The wrong way is to try to get the crowd excited by becoming over-excited yourself. That was the problem with the hot young band St. Paul & the Broken Bones, which played at Stubb's March 11. Lead singer Paul Janeway does possess a powerhouse voice, but he over-sings every song by going too soon to the climax without laying the preparatory groundwork. Couple that with a jittery band that tends to speed up the tempo as each number progresses, and the audience feels like it's being forcibly shoved into enthusiasm rather than invited in. A far more effective way to deliver vintage R&B is to understate the song and seduce the listener. A master class in this technique was delivered by Bobby Rush at the Dogwood on the following night. Rush, who claims to be 81 though Wikipedia lists him as 73, sat in a chair without a band and told his life story from his rural Louisiana childhood to his apprenticeship at Chicago's Chess Records to his eventual stardom as a Mississippi juke joint hero, illustrating each chapter with songs. Everything was presented with a relaxed confidence and a sly humor that made both the stories and the songs so irresistible that it didn't matter if they were true or not. Rush claimed to have released 265 records—both singles and albums—in his lifetime, and an hour later I found him at a table in the club writing out record titles with a Sharpie on a pile of napkins. He proudly informed that he had actually released 316. I asked him if he still owned copies of all of them, and his painful wince told me the answer. The night before I heard another legend from the golden age of soul music: Dallas's Bobby Patterson. He's less well known than Rush because his greatest accomplishments were done as an A&R guy and producer for Jewel Records in Louisiana and as a songwriter for other acts such as Fontella Bass, Little Johnny Taylor and Albert King. Those songs were so good that some of them have been re-recorded by the likes of Jeff Tweedy and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He sang a bunch of them Tuesday night at the 512 Rooftop. Two days before his 70th birthday, the short, wiry singer was snappily dressed in a three-piece purple suit topped off with a purple bowler. "I'm an old man with young ideas," he boasted. "Being three score and ten, I don't need no Viagra; I don't need no Niagara, and I sure don't need no aggra-vation."

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