Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Album Review: St. Paul & The Broken Bones - Young Sick Camellia

St Paul & The Broken Bones
Young Sick Camellia
**** out of *****

On St. Paul & The Broken Bones debut Half The City the group dove into retro soul sound with passion, then their follow up the excellent Sea of Noise was one of the best albums of 2016, expanding the bands sound by experimenting with outer-space funk. That trend of successfully widening the groups breath and scope continues on Young Sick Camellia which roots itself in the south through it's title, some lyrics and interludes, but also soars for the stars.   

The album was written from front-man Paul Janeway's personal relationship with his father and grandfather. Janeway is, as he describes it:
I’m liberal, a blue dot in a very red part of the world. When you’re from Alabama you have to go out of your way to make people understand that you think a little differently. But we’re an Alabama band—it’s who we are.
Those personal relationships with direct family members and spirituality/wisdom may form the crux/inspiration for the record, but in the end they also muddy the overall flow. Janeway is evolving as a lyric writer and when he addresses those relationships directly on "Hurricane" or we hear from his "pawpaw" in recorded conversations, the moments are deeply personal and cathartic but also rub awkwardly against the universal appeal of the standout first single "Apollo".

Listening to that track alone, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Jesse Phillips (bass, guitars) Browan Lollar (guitars), Andrew Lee (drums), Al Gamble (keyboards), Allen Branstetter (trumpet), Chad Fisher (trombone) and Amari Ansari, Jason Mingledorff (saxophone) hit it out of the park with a magical grooving funk soul work out dealing with pure love; a dynamite four minutes and forty five seconds of bliss. 

Another scorcher is the drop dead sexy flow of "Nasa" which fuzzes up guitars putting bass and organ work front and center while Janeway's amazing vocals captivvate leading to a swirling climax. The group injects some disco with the Bootsy Collins bass bubbles of "GotItBad" and "LivWithoutU" both of which get the dance floor moving but dig deep with questioning/spiritual lyrics moving mind an body. 

The choice to partner with polished producer Jack Splash (Cee-Lo, Kendrick Lamar, Alisha Keys) and striving for accessibility is evident throughout, but mostly during their tricky foray into hip-hop samples and beats during "Mr. Invisible". Not a blazing success, but not as silly as it may seem. The duo of "Convex" and "Concave" also possess flashes on modern with "Convex's"odd electro sounds (and even more convoluted lyrics) for "Convex" and a dip into pop rock territory with thematic strings for "Convex".

This mixing of feelings/goals, a down home record that captures pop sensibility and appeal in 2018 make for a bit of a disjointed overall listen but it is hard not to admire a band who goes for it all. The drawn out dramatic closer "Bruised Fruit" hearkens back to the southern personal family bonds (and the obvious "Strange Fruit" comparison in the title) with pianos, a huge horn crescendo and cinematic scope, but the ending isn't fully nailed as the record grapples with issues bigger than most albums can deliver, or ever even aspire too. 

Young Sick Cameilla tries to straddle personal connections, the twisted history of the American south  and cosmic nature of life, not just for Janeway but with all human relationships (physical and spiritual). Some big ass goals and the band almost pulls it off, falling just a bit short, however, the gorgeous vocals and musicality from the group still succeeds on multiple levels crafting a complex listen, solidifying them into a echelon of must hear artists.
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:

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