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Chris St. John’s “The Sinner and the Saint” LP 

I’m a little unsure what to make of Chris St. John’s The Sinner and the Saint on a first listen. It’s an album that begs listeners to make repeated passes before pronouncing a final judgment. It’s not that his songwriting presents any enigmas for listeners, and it never travels through alien territory. Pinning it down, however, isn’t easy. He moves between genres in such an understated yet often compelling fashion that you aren’t sure what you’ll encounter from track to track once you dive in. The glorious part of it, though, is that it all hits home and never sounds like filler.

“Black and Blue” serves notice that St. John is one of the most attentive musicians and songwriters working today. Nothing is left to chance and every aspect of the composition is fine-tuned without ever sounding labored. Violin plays a major role in the album’s development, but the first track leaves it out in favor of hard-driving near rock. Once the song starts cooking in earnest, it wouldn’t be out of place on a Tom Petty album. The opening of the track, however, promises something much more stylish and unique before evolving.

“The Hard Way” shifts gears in a major way. St. John moves into blues-oriented territory in a bigger way than the bulk of the album ever embraces. It’s appropriate for a song casting a backward glance at the sometimes bitter lessons he’s learned from life’s assorted detours and cul-de-sacs. The presence of slide guitar during the performance underlines the aforementioned blues influence without ever falling prey to cliché.

 He crosses the singer/songwriter school with an idiosyncratic folkie style for the title song. It’s St. John at his most nakedly vulnerable confessing one foible after another without ever running himself into a ditch of self-pity. The scattered backing vocals present throughout the song make it even more affecting. Melody and sensitivity are paramount and it’s one of the album’s best numbers. It’s arguably its centerpiece moment as well.

Biting electric guitar, piano, and startling changes come together to make “Harbinger” one of the album’s best. It’s a remarkably mature and fully realized example of St. John’s songwriting talents. The aforementioned startling changes come at assorted points throughout the song and upend the listener’s expectations without sabotaging the track. He underlines his ability to wear multiple musical faces changing things up with the gloriously loose and entertaining “Then I Met You”. The country music influences are strong with this track and the drumming gives it a rollicking feel that will make it a favorite for many.

The final full song on The Sinner and the Saint is “I Long to See You” and, as the title implies, yearning stands out as its dominant theme. It’s one of the album’s most spartan moments, as well, with St. John relying largely on his voice and acoustic guitar work. He ends the release with a short track, less than twenty seconds long, entitled “The Disguise”. It’s a worthy bookend to the album that puts an eloquent period on everything that’s come before. Chris St. John’s The Sinner and the Saint is one of those rare albums that truly has something for everyone and grows on you with each new listen. 

Mindy McCall



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