TVD Live: Paul Rodgers with the Royal Sessions band at Town Hall, 6/19

PHOTOS: EBRU YILDIZ | At a point in between songs during his New York performance of recent project and album release The Royal Sessions, Paul Rodgers remarked (half to himself, half to the packed house before him), “Isn’t this music cool? I love this music.”

This music, covers of classic blues and soul tunes such as “I Thank You,” “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and show-stealer “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” was really, really cool. After all, the Sessions band, an assortment of top musicians from Memphis, gave us a tighter-than-tight horn section and an electric bongo player.

But the majority of the evening’s cool points most definitely went to Rodgers himself, because he made every move and every note look and sound easy, causing the average concert-going nerd to narrow his eyes, stroke his chin and think to himself, “Hmmm… so casual, smooth, easy—heck, anybody could sing these R&B standards and sound good, right?”

Wrong! Because only Paul Rodgers, singer of such rock classics as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Free’s “All Right Now,” could make these standards sound so good. Indeed, it could be said that Rodgers’ Royal Sessions project created (cue megaphone amplification) “The PERFECT… STORM… OF SOUL.”

Thursday evening’s one-night-only performance presented a Paul Rodgers who was strong and who was masterful of the material—there was an element of the magician wielding his magic wand in the way he brought the microphone towards his perfectly ardent voice, letting the notes soar and slink over the familiar (and often lovelorn) lyrics.

His voice was so on that he was almost ahead of his perfect band, acting as a subtle human metronome of sorts. It was percussive and undeniably steadfast, as if there was nothing in the world that would stop Rodgers from finishing out each song: courage, naturally masculine courage, manifested in a human voice. This attitude and approach really accented—jacked up, if you will—the meanings and messages behind each tune.

Now, the Sessions band, the aforementioned “assortment of top musicians from Memphis,” should be elaborated on, because the band was not just any backing band, not just a ragtag group of talented any-names (which would have been fine—but with Paul Rodgers, “fine” ain’t fine enough).

Reverend Charles Hodges, keyboardist whose work can be found on records by Al Green and Boz Scaggs; guitarist Michael Toles, who has worked with Isaac Hayes and Albert King, drummer Steve Potts, current member of Booker T. & the MG’s, and the Memphis Horns—just to name a few. This dream line-up made sure that each song was treated with a unique and well-informed aural aesthetic. A standout number was the Isaac Hayes arrangement of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By,” when the strings section soared, complemented by plenty of the 1970s-esque “wah-wah.”

The show was a bit short, with material more or less limited to that off the new album. There was roughly a 75-minute set, plus a slightly delayed encore. “Stormy Monday” had to be assembled backstage very quickly—but the result was worth it.

Every once in a while Rodgers flashed a magnificent smile—that of a confident (and cool!) showman in complete control.

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