Taking all that was great about country rock and blues from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the unassuming gents from Melbourne’s Saint Jude continue to deliver their take on the greats of Americana with their second long player, Saint Jude II. Considering the deep mines of musical influence we could discuss, it’s probably not my proudest professional moment to ask frontman Brooke Penrose why he has a girl’s name. He doesn’t seem to care though.
“Well, Brooke Shields hadn’t made it famous yet so no one had really heard the name, then a few years later it was like, ‘Great, now I’ve got a girl’s name,’” he laughs recalling the moment. “But now I love it.” It wasn’t a Boy Named Sue type scenario either, although one could be forgiven for thinking so. Saint Jude’s music draws a lot of inspiration from the American greats so a link to a Johnny Cash song didn’t seem like too much of a stretch, although they’re more reminiscent of The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Band than the Man in Black. They also infuse that country rock sound with plenty of soul and gospel, particularly through the Hammond keyboard tinkering’s of Brendan McMahon.
“Brendan is an absolute gun,” Penrose gushes of his band member’s keys. “He has these sounds in his head, and he’ll say, ‘I’m gonna do this…’ and you hear it and say, ‘Yeah that’s what it needed!’ I often demo with a poxy little midi Hammond part on it, then he plays something and he’ll change the tone, and you think, ‘Oh my god yeah, that’s it’. Penrose and McMahon’s efforts rounded out by the incendiary guitar of Ryan McCarthy, Mick Styliano’s bass, and percussion from famed Melburnian drummer Bill Deeble, with all the guys chipping on for vocal harmonies.
“We always thought of the band as a bit of a gang – there are certain methods that drive it in certain ways, but we all play a part and make decisions together. We’re a union of friends and musicians.” And, it’s worth noting, a group that seem at times more eager to share their musical tastes than advancing their own standings in the music world. Though not attempting to sound too magnanimous, Penrose agrees with the suggestion. “Absolutely, we’re always passing music onto other people and hoping they enjoy what we’ve enjoyed.”
It’s a point evidenced on their website, where each member has posted their ‘desert island’ tracklists, their amusing preambles making them seem more keen to share rather than laud any musical knowledge. That said, it’s not as if they’re completely devoid of self-promotion, nor does Penrose suggest they approach Saint Jude with selfless abandon. He notes his own artwork, used for LPs and shows as an attempt to have a “visual identity” for punters to recognise. “We’re not the kind of band that’s going to dress in suits or costumes,” he laughs, “although someone did describe us as button down press-stud shirts with cowboy boots once”.
Having a visual identity is all good and well, but worthless if you’re not giving people something worth listening to. Fortunately that’s not an issue; upcoming release Saint Jude II will be their second LP in four years to go along with their previous three EPs, and more importantly it’s quality stuff. There’s a ridiculous amount of soul on Only You I Need with its out-of-this-world keyboard and guitar solos. Drifter’s Ballad is as gorgeous as anything else out there and Laurelie rouses with its drawn out organ and a choir backing that’s trumped only by a bit of shredding on the telecaster from McCarthy. A cover of The Kinks’ This Time Tomorrow also makes the cut, a fairly obscure choice I suggest. “We’re not hipster enough to pull off a Missy Elliot cover or anything like that,” laughs Penrose as an explanation.
They’ve certainly snowballed from being a recording-less two-piece back in 2009, to a five-piece with two LPs under their belt, and it’s a journey Penrose has certainly been enjoying. “It’s been great, we’ve gotten a lot of love out of Melbourne,” and despite all that love, the goal still remains simple. “I think the main thing we all want for our music, besides playing it, is to be on people’s iPods and record players, and for people just to dig it.”
BY GARRATH WESTMORE