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Review: St. Paul & The Broken Bones Shift Southern Soul on Their Third Album

The Alabama band travels to new ground without straying too far away from their comfort zone.

Diamond Edwards

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St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Young Sick Camellia

St. Paul & The Broken Bones are back with their third studio release, “Young Sick Camellia,” to bring in September with standout sounds of the South. The Alabama-based band has developed a unique blend of 21st century soul since their 2014 debut “Half the City,” but this time they are stepping away from the gloom and approaching the groove.

Listeners can be taken on a ride simply through lead singer Paul Janeway’s mesh of inflections. He goes from a 60s James Brown shout to a 70s Al Green moan, and even to a shriek reminiscent of Prince in the 80s. And that just on “Apollo.”

Whomever the influence, Janeway is showing that he is not scared to explore his range nor his emotions. This exploration is present in the instrumentation as well, with a brassy horn section, hip hop snares, flutes, and synthesizer, which blend together in a way listeners can come to appreciate after wrapping their heads around the uncommon pairings.

And this is perhaps just what St. Paul & The Broken Bones want, to challenge the perception of a band from the south and their ability to color outside of the bible belt lines. Tracks like “LiveWithoutU” and “GotItBad” display the upbeat approach the band is taking but by the close of the album, “Bruised Fruit” brings fans back to a familiar place with the soft, somber soul found on “Sea of Noise.”

It is not the full-length tracks that make this project special, but the interludes that are carefully placed in between to create a story opposed to a collection of singles. These jazz inspired interludes include the voice of Janeway’s grandfather as he speaks about life as he knows it, once again blending the old with the new, the rigid with the free, with an opportunity to learn from both.

At times, the freedom of Janeway’s vocal journey bring difficulty in following the lyrics that bare the story. What I credited as raw emotion in the beginning soon became a distraction and a warble of sounds. Luckily, these are the times when the musicianship of the band shine to help the album stay above water. With this, the album may not be completely memorable but is definitely worth a couple of listens solely for the unique mesh of sounds.

Overall, the third installment from St. Paul & The Broken Bones travels to new ground without straying too far away, resulting in an album that can be appreciated from listeners, new and old. “Young Sick Camellia” embodies the melting pot of genres which many bands are aiming for in this age, such as Hiatus Kaiyote and Snarky Puppy. As raspy lines and clear tonality are combined with retro vibrations and modern production, the band from ‘Bama is looking to change the narrative with this musical melting pot. And to say the least, this group is definitely proving that their way of life and the way that life is perceived from the outside is continuing to grow, just like the camellias.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Diamond is from Dallas, Texas. She is a recent graduate of Texas A&M University where she earned a double major in English and Performance Studies. In addition to writing, she plays piano and drums, and stays up to date on all hip-hop and R&B music.

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