Chris St. John released his first solo album I’m Dreaming in 2021 and followed it up with two equally well-received efforts in 2022. Fly Away and When Dreams End arrived in the aftermath of COVID-19 but nonetheless made considerable headway towards solidifying his position as one of the most promising singer/songwriters appearing during this fraught period. His new album The Sinner and the Saint, however, is a quantum leap forward for St. John’s songwriting as his craftsmanship and knack for structuring full-length albums take on a new hue. The eleven songs included on The Sinner and the Saint chart the growth of the soul, but not in a spiritual sense as much as they chronicle lessons learned along life’s often rocky, yet rewarding, way.

His brand of Americana music is indelibly stylish. It never sounds overly polished, however. “Black and Blue” starts The Sinner and the Saint off with evocative guitar work slightly aglow with slight post-production adornments. Melody is at the forefront and a near-hushed pensiveness fills this ruminative take on the wages of love. The reflective nature of the song finds its fullest expression in St. John’s vocals.

He has a lot to work with. “Black and Blue” refrains from any attempts at poetry in favor of a literal yet well-written lyric. He’s looking to connect with his audience and eschews any sort of pretentious dross capable of dragging down the track. Violin and accordion give a melancholy tint to another breakup song and there’s a slightly exotic air to the performance. It’s romantic and yet fatalistic – there’s no saving this fractured love affair, but St. John wants to leave it on a sentimental note. The specific details present in his lyrics are relatable to a vast swath of listeners.

“The Hard Way” is St. John at his most bluesy. He forsakes much of the stylized slant of the preceding tunes and pursues an earthier approach with success. The song has another fine lyric that St. John dispatches with a minimal amount of fuss. It’s a song about difficulties endured without ever sounding preachy like he’s experienced things others haven’t, and that common bond is a major reason why the cut will resonate.

The title song will resonate as well. It’s a brooding tune and blatantly autobiographical without coming across as obscure. He’s rueful over the wrong turns that his poor decisions have led him to, but there’s no bluster, just heartbroken resignation. Ghostly slide guitar slithers through the arrangement and adds spectral color. Concrete lyrical details help make “Now I Know” impactful, but the music is no slouch as well. The violin, in particular, once again acts as a quasi-second voice throughout the piece and accentuates its sad ambiance.

“Long Goodbyes” is another of St. John’s downcast reflections on broken relationships. The continuing presence of the violin is essential to the song’s mood and the production puts a welcome spotlight on his consistently first-class guitar playing. The Sinner and the Saint is chock full of tunes that get under your skin and invite repeated listens. Many familiar with Chris St. John’s work will judge it as his best effort yet. 

Garth Thomas