Paul Rodgers returned to the UK as a fully fledged soul man for a special one off show to put the Royal back into the Royal Albert Hall.
His perfectly preserved voice soared above his 9 piece Memphis band, which grew bigger still, with 3 backing singers and a string quartet.
A shame then, that he seemed to completely lose track of time to finish the main body of his set after little over an hour. He did return for a three number encore, with a belated ‘Stormy Monday’, played to a startled, exit-ing audience with the house light still on, to remind us of the brusque blues singer of yore.
It’s no surprise that Paul Rodgers has afforded himself the luxury of revisiting his own southern soul roots, as that genre of music is big news again. From the contemporary soul of D’Angelo to Warren Haynes, Vintage Soul, Leela James, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and the renewed interest in Stax, something is stirring in The States. And who better to ride that wave than the ultimate white boy soul singer Paul Rodgers, in the company of the Memphis musicians who played on most of the great Stax and Hi records of the era?
Much like the curate’s egg, tonight was good in parts. First up was Deborah Bonham in stripped down mode – just voice and keyboards – for highlights of her ‘Duchess’ and ‘Spirit’ albums, of which the ballads ‘Hold On’ and ‘I Need Love’ emphasized her full range.
After a lengthy preamble by his producer/collaborator Perry A. Margouleff - which took us from Memphis to Middlesborough and included band introductions – Paul Rodgers swept on to the stage to quickly remind us of his vocal prowess, as he revelled in front of a 4-piece horn section.
If tonight was all about going back to his soul roots and more specifically material from his current ‘The Royal Sessions’ album, then it was a task that demanded more self discipline than his natural swagger.
He still cut his rock star poses with a diagonally held mic stand and occasional twirls to work the stage like the trouper. His peerless mic technique allowed him to hold a note here, nuance a phrase there, and explore his magnificent timbre on OV Wright’s ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’. But leading a huge musical ensemble brings its own demands, highlighted by a slight blip when he erroneously started a phrase as the horns soloed.
Otis Redding’s ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ gave him plenty of space to ad-lib on the first of several lengthy outro’s and he was restraint personified on Ann Peebles ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’. But it was his ability to infuse occasional pedestrian song choices like ‘It’s Growing’ with real meaning and a measure of excitement that makes him a great singer.
The outstanding version of his own ‘Walk In My Shadow’ was far better. The horn led arrangement gave the song real bombast and dynamics and contrasted with ‘The Hunter’, which though well played was somehow robbed of its original rock-blues impact.
No matter; ‘Can’t Get Enough’ brought everyone to their feet for a rousing finish, while the first encore ‘Walk On By’ featured Paul’s best phrasing of the night, before a bluesy finale in surreal circumstances.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes/MHP Studios
Album review (The Royal Sessions)
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