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Music Review: Broken Speakers channels vintage soul with a bluesy edge on its debut album

Music Review: Broken Speakers channels vintage soul with a bluesy edge on its debut album
May 2023

The six-piece soul band releases “Stay” with a show at The Royal American on May 27

After Gaslight Street vocalist Campbell Brown shared a few tracks he’d been working on with Shovels & Rope’s Michael Trent, a new band called Broken Speakers was formed.

The story of Broken Speakers—a six-piece, throwback-soul band comprised of veteran Charleston-based musicians—is an amalgam of our city’s music scene. Campbell Brown, the lead singer and songwriter (also of Folly Beach’s blues-rock project Gaslight Street), works days as a carpenter. When Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of folk duo Shovels & Rope needed a new fence with a gate to accommodate their tour bus, Brown took the job and shared a few tracks with Trent that he’d recorded with Whitt Algar, Stratton Moore (SexBruise, Gaslight Street) and Ryan Bonner at the latter’s home studio on John’s Island.

Stay, the resulting seven-track LP produced by Trent, evolved into the artists forming a new band. Brown had fragments of several songs he’d assumed would be for Gaslight Street, but after Trent added a distorted, thumping bassline and soulful layers of backing vocals to the chorus and bridge of the title track, the music demanded its own entity. “We realized this is a different sound. It’s a different band,” says Brown. Bonner, lead guitarist and the album’s coproducer, brought in Drew Lewis on drums. Gaslight Street’s Algar joined on keyboard and Corey Stephens (of Josh Roberts and The Hinges) plays bass, with Kaitlin Casteel (Sunflowers & Sin) rounding out the vocals. 

During the pandemic, several band members had tours with their other groups canceled. The pause allowed for a slower, back-and-forth process of tweaks with Trent. “We took our time with it, which I’d never done before,” says Brown. Through collective input, each song morphed to represent the new band’s signature sound. 

Stay will be released on May 27.

He describes the semi-autobiographical “Four Corners” as “a tale set in the ’30s about a traveling blues musician jumping on a train, playing gigs, and selling his soul…all that.” He plays a haunting slide guitar on the track, and Trent provides a rolling harmonica that perfectly segues from the chorus to verse. “That one really took a turn with Michael,” says Brown. “He stripped it down to just a kick and the vocal and a bit of organ at the beginning, and then the harmonica has that hook.” 

“Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday,” the album’s second single, features Trent’s layered call-and-response on the chorus. The backing-vocal-group sound and bass lines lend the collection a feeling between the neo-soul of Meyer Hawthorne and the jangly melodies of The Band, dosed with hints of muffled ’70s blues overdrive. Dave McNair, the mastering engineer for Shovels & Rope and a studio veteran with Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples, and Willie Nelson credits, provided the album its final polish. 

Onstage, Broken Speakers’ full sound allows Brown to put his guitar aside and focus on being a true lead singer, working a vintage mic while the musicians build to a peak behind him. “It’s a different role being a front man, but I’ve embraced it,” he says. “We arrange each song together as a band and that helps us stay true to the sound.” 

Stay will be released on May 27 with a performance at The Royal American. 

Hear More: Watch a music video for the title song from Broken Speakers’ debut album Stay.