12 Track, LP (2012, Cobra Snake Necktie/Love & Theft)
Related: Saint Jude.
“I got soul but I ain’t got style,” confesses Brooke Penrose on Saint Jude’s recent single ‘I Don’t Know Why’. That says it all. The Melbourne quintet aren’t latching onto trends or clawing their way towards overnight fame. They’re happy to record this debut album in Penrose’s home studio and concentrate on honouring and inhabiting the slow-burn country-rock tradition of The Band, Flying Burrito Brothers and Beggars Banquet-era Stones.
For something cut in a modest setting “over a dozen cold and rainy days”, Saint Jude sounds priceless. Showing off the production wisdom gained through working with locals like his other band Little John, Penrose imbues this record with a sincere closeness that puts the songs right in the room with us. That heightens the whole experience, making the guitar and trumpet of ‘Bury Me Down’ flash like biblical lightning even as it brings the out-of-time backroom country of ‘Waiting for Sorrow’ so close that we can almost taste the whiskey and wine haunting the lyrics.
But for all the harried crackle of ‘Bury Me Down’ and the gospel harmonies and near-Waits rasp of ‘Go Tell the People’, this isn’t tortured stuff. With drummer Bill Deeble (Little John) singing lead, ‘Trouble’s Courage’ turns a lament into levity with its saloon-loose delivery; in fact, much of the record seems to relish melancholy and reclaim it as a virtue. The plucky, Beatles-via-Dr Dog romp ‘Out of This Land’ confirms the band’s natural mood swings, while lead guitarist Ryan McCarthy takes the mic to keep ‘Cold Mountain Man’ nicely light. And on the opening ‘All Ways Were Lost’, even the hopeless title phrase turns into a singalong procession of “la la las”.
Saint Jude don’t just get the sound of their heroes right – they get the emotion. The piano-based ‘Rain, Rain’ is vulnerable in the purest way, and ‘Cried Alone’ is especially affecting in its wistful instrumentation and production choices. It’s a kind of rally when the trumpet heard earlier reappears on ‘I Don’t Know Why’, whose closing drumbeat then echoes the Kinks’ ‘Strangers’ for the same elliptical effect.
Guiding those emotions, Penrose’s voice changes tack all over the record to possess each song’s particular vibe. He’s lonesome, he’s beaming, he’s desperate, he’s proud. In other words? He’s got soul.
by Doug Wallen