In the painting Young Sick Bacchus by Baroque-era legend Caravaggio, the artist uses his canvas to look inward, crafting a raw and honest moment of self-reflection. And on their third LP, Young Sick Camellia, Alabama eight-piece St. Paul & the Broken Bones do something similar: go big and bombastic with the music while taking a deeper look within themselves.
“It represents me, my home, and my ideals of home,” says the band’s powerhouse singer-songwriter Paul Janeway about the record — which he plans to be the first in a series of three LPs: this one from his point of view, the next from his father, and, finally, his grandfather (“pawpaw”). “I’ve always felt somewhat broken, whether or not it’s being a very liberal guy in Alabama, or dealing with broken relationships in my family.”
After two LPs — 2014’s Half the City and 2016’s Sea of Noise — cemented St. Paul as one of the most thrilling torchbearers of modern, big-brass soul, Janeway decided to take a left turn from expectations to start this self-exploration. So he enlisted hip-hop and R&B producer Jack Splash (who has worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Alicia Keys) and let things get a little wild. From the Bee Gees-inspired vibe of “Got It Bad” to the deep bassline groove of a falsetto-drenched “Mr. Invisible,” Young Sick Camellia is the band at its creative peak, firmly outside of any easy genre classification (“genres are for PR People and record labels,” Janeway says with a hearty chuckle). Sure, they embrace their signature horns — but there are electronic drums here, too.
“Artists I admire always changed their sound,” says Janeway, “and just tried to do something different.”
While he challenges the ideas of what it means to be outside the realm of traditional southern conservatism or even gender roles on the band’s last album, Young Sick Camellia looks at what this means within his own family: a fraught but evolving father-son relationship, and a late grandfather, whose recorded voice dots the LP. Janeway — who doesn’t support President Trump — has wrestled long and hard with how to approach relatives whose beliefs don’t mirror his own, and his home state, where his point of view is often in the minority. That internal storm rings throughout the record and ends not with unrest but compassion. As with the album’s closer, a gorgeous piano ballad called “Bruised Fruit,” the sweetest tastes often come with wear and tear, too.
“It’s easy to love people who are likeminded,” says Janeway. “It’s hard to love those you disagree with strongly. But, at the end of the day, we’re all made of mud and blood.”