Citizen John - The Black Sorrows

(album out 29 March 2019 through Bloodlines)

1. Wednesday’s Child
2. Brother Moses Sister Mae
3. Lazy Slide Guitar
4. Way Below The Heavens
5. Worlds Away
6. Wild Times
7. Messiah
8. Storm The Bastille
9. Play It SentimentalCitizen John
10. Silvio
11. Lover I Surrender
12. Wednesday’s Child (Live) – Bonus Track
13. Do I Move You (Live) – Bonus Track
14. Silvio (Live) – Bonus Track
15. Lover I Surrender (Live) – Bonus Track
16. Way Below The Heavens (Live) – Bonus Track
17. Down Home Girl (Live) – Bonus Track
18. Brother Moses Sister Mae (Live) – Bonus Track
19. Citizen John (Live) – Bonus Track
20. The Honeydripper (Live) – Bonus Track

He’s out there again. Down by the river in the rain, trying to beat the devil in a world of pain as the midnight train thunders by. You know the throb of his voice. You feel the groove like the heartbeat of an old friend. Joe Camilleri is back. And he’s still searching.

“I’m on my 49th album. 21st with The Black Sorrows,” says the giant of Australian rhythm and blues with a sideways glance that dares you to believe it. “So there’s a lot of sins I got to repent.”

For those who came in late, those include the ’70s soul-ska revolution of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, the peerless FM radio conquest of ‘Hold Onto Me’ and ‘Harley & Rose’ and, from the Drollies circa ’65 to Bakelite Radio and the Revelators, more soul-fed, sweat-soaked bar bands than he cares to count.

Right now though, as Citizen John opens onto the rain-soaked black-country panorama of ‘Wednesday’s Child’, there’s only one album that matters. All that came before — six decades’ worth of songs that flow like molten gold through the annals of Australian music — has been leading to this expertly crafted world of soul and intrigue.  

“This is the album I’ve just made and it’s the hardest album I’ve ever made, on many levels,” says the man who still plays 160 shows a year, from his home base in country Victoria to the music halls of Europe.

“It’s about moving forward. To me, it’s always about moving forward. It’s all very nice to get a pat on the back and ‘Hey I saw you in ‘78,’ but I want people to judge me on this album.”

It’s a deal. Citizen John is the multi-platinum, ARIA-winning legacy of The Black Sorrows distilled to pure essence. Witness the tragicomic New Orleans brass fable of ‘Brother Moses Sister Mae’, the grinding blues boogie of ‘Lazy Slide Guitar’ and the sophisticated bandstand jazz of ‘Play It Sentimental’.

It’s hard to imagine any one album containing the complete breadth of this band’s immense musical passion and skill, but add the Celtic soldier’s longing of ‘Way Below The Heavens’, the ethereal high plains daydream of ‘Worlds Away’ and a spirited shot at Bob Dylan’s ‘Silvio’, and a fair serve of that cinematic sprawl is on the table.

Like scenes in a slightly ominous movie, each song is a story that resonates with the world as we know it in 2019. Deeply embedded in the long-time musical chemistry of Claude Carranza (guitar), John McAll (keys) Mark Gray (bass) and Angus Burchall (drums), Sorrows lyricist Nick Smith is the secret ingredient that makes this screenplay fly.

“Citizen John is just a very bad dude, you know?” Joe chuckles of the title character. With his snake-hipped gait, Hammond organ wheeze and cop-show horns closing in, he’s definitely a citizen for our times. “You see ’em everywhere. They kinda want everything and don’t wanna work for it. Maybe they’ll even kill for it. But for this poor geezer, time’s running out. Boom.”

There’s an uneasy familiarity, too, between the strange chord changes of ‘Storm The Bastille’.

“’Bring me the head of Marie Antoinette’ is an old line, but it’s kinda what dictators are saying all the time,” Joe observes.

Similarly, “I reckon if you go to the outback of Australia today, you’ll find Messiah everywhere,” he says of the parched gospel lament at the album’s heart.

So rolls The Black Sorrows’ undulating landscape of human toil and folly; joy and sorrow; love and loss. It’s a shifting destination Joe Camilleri has been chasing down since he got thrown onstage at a blue light disco in Footscray to sing some early Rolling Stones number as a teenager back in 1964.

A staggering 55 years on, Citizen John drinks from the same bottomless well that made Jo Jo Zep and the Falcon’s Screaming Targets and the late ‘80s Sorrows blockbuster ‘Hold Onto Me’ indelible landmarks in the history of Australian music.

Deep in its grooves lurk the many artists Joe has tipped his hat to, on stage and record: Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, John Lee Hooker… but,

I’m not that guy that I was when I was 20 or 30,” he says. “At 70, my thing is to keep searching for what’s next.

“I’m not a heritage act. I’ve never been a heritage act. I’ve always been a constant player. The Sorrows exist not because we’re an ‘80s band, or a ‘90s band, or any other kind of band. We exist because of the now. Just treat me like a new act,” he says. “This one’s just got a very old face.”

Twitter: @TheBlackSorrows | Instagram: @jojocamilleri