Paul Weller is still evolving, this time into a smooth soul man

Friday, 06 October 2017, 04:53:29 PM. Paul Weller, of The Jam fame, has grown into a successful solo act that of late is showing off a soul man vibe.

Important news broke last month in the U.K. about the Jam, the early punk heroes famous for hits like "Town Called Malice," "This Is the Modern World" and "That's Entertainment": In the late '70s, the band toured in a borrowed van with a real lion in the front. "Dangerous, man, I'll tell you that!" singer Paul Weller recalls. "I remember casually putting my hand in the front without thinking and it … went for me.

"It went for the elbow. It was a small line cut but it wasn't too bad," says the British rock-and-soul singer, who has a lengthy record of his own hits in addition to the Jam and his second band, Style Council, by phone from his home in England. "I was bitten by a lion, man! Yeah, it's my claim to fame."

Weller, 59, is the rare rock star whose music career has shambled through several distinct phases while scoring hits in each one. He started as a blunt-force punk singer in the same wave as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, only with more melodic tunes and broadly fashionable clothing — the Jam became one of the better-known rock bands in England through the early '80s. Then the Jam broke up, and Weller formed the softer, more soulful Style Council, before switching to his most permanent career move, as a solo singer who put out 1991's "Into Tomorrow," 1995's "The Changingman" and other British hits.

Today, Weller is a prolific singer-songwriter and a sort of grizzled elder statesman of British pop and rock. He has put out three projects this year: a reflective, grooving album, "A Kind Revolution"; the soft and acoustic soundtrack to indie film "Jawbone"; and "Mother Ethiopia," a collaborative three-part single with soul band Stone Foundation. "I worked on them all at different times," he says. "I work fairly quickly, so most of the time I probably spent three or four days in the studio, but working stupid hours — like 18 hours sometimes — without realizing it. Very intense but quick bursts."

All three projects show a different side to Weller's multifaceted personality. Early in his career, he was deep-voiced and cheeky, not so much carrying a tune as commandeering it, but he has evolved into a subtle and sophisticated soul man, a little like Traffic's Steve Winwood in his later hitmaking years. On "A Kind Revolution," he positions his voice on a bed of electric guitars, organs and strings, contemplating changing times on gentle songs like "Long Long Road" and "The Cranes Are Back."

"That's like 40 years of smoking, really," Weller says of his changing voice over the years. "It's just getting older, isn't it? ... I was thinking about when I saw (the Rolling Stones') Ronnie Wood a couple years back, when he did a tribute to (late bluesman) Jimmy Reed. And I just thought how much he sounded like Jimmy Reed — probably more than he thought he would when he was 18. He actually sounds like the real thing.

"If you're lucky enough, if you've still got a voice," he continues, "when you're at the end of the tunnel, you can turn into the person you always wanted to be — or could be."

"A Kind Revolution" contains cameos from Boy George of Culture Club (an old mate) and Robert Wyatt (the Soft Machine drummer and cult hero who hadn't played live in 30 years until Weller brought him out for a political fundraising concert in December). "He finds playing live difficult, not just because of his disability (Wyatt is paralyzed from the waist down after a fall in 1973), but he gets really, really bad stage fright," Weller says. "Like really in pieces, man. He was saying 'I don't know, I'm not sure if I should ... ' Just all these doubts. I was telling him, 'People will … love this.' I think he enjoyed it."

As a kid, Weller grew up fascinated with American soul music and British soul bands like Dr. Feelgood. Then punk came around and he formed the Jam in 1975 with three likeminded schoolmates — guitarist Steve Brookes, drummer Rick Buckler and bassist Bruce Foxton. He has referred to his younger days as alcohol-fueled "chaos and madness." Today, he's settled down, having given up drinking five years ago. He has five children with three women. The oldest child, Natt, is in his late 20s — in addition to the baby girl he had with his second wife, Hannah, over the summer.

"I've done it before so many times, so it's not a shock to the system, man," he says. "I spend a bit more time balancing plates, because I've got a lot more kids, and my wife and business. And I have to stop and think sometimes: 'I'm an artist and I've got to sit down and do some writing.' It gets difficult to find time to do everything, but I manage.

"My wife will probably say something different," he adds with a laugh.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: , 329 N. Dearborn St.

Tickets: $42-$50; 312-923-2000 or

Steve Knopper is a freelance writer.

onthetown@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @chitribent

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