Athens, Georgia legends Five Eight are readying to drop their eighth studio album, Songs for St. Jude (Chicken Ranch Records). Produced by Mike Albanese, the 17-song double album illustrates just how relevant the band remains some 25 years after their debut. Don’t believe it? Just listen. Go ahead and YouTube some live Five Eight vids from the early- to mid-90s to realize that the band – especially leader Mike Mantione – has lost nothing from its energy stores. If anything, the band is more of a force today.
St. Jude is a master class in passionate and literate rock and roll, with Mantione emoting his ass off (as usual). There is an unexpected maturation with this new release, which isn’t to say that the new tunes are more sober and evolved than previous releases (Mantione has tackled personal issues in the past). Maybe the band with the punk aesthetic has expanded on their sound. The songs run the gamut from slow burners (“Smoke,” “Sherman Oaks Fire”) to their familiar triple espresso sounds (“Werner Herzog,” “Someday”). In between are pure gems, songs that will become etched in your memory for some time.
Dark and wonderful, “The Hollow” holds dear some genuine Athens DNA, while you may hear whispers of Neil Young in “The Flood,” honoring those affected by Hurricane Katrina. You should recognize the familiar voice of Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood on that track, as well as on the memorable “Song for Jim Gordon.” And is that an ode to Beastie Boys in “Tall Tales”? You be the judge. As for this tightly fantastic four piece – Sean Dunn on guitar, Patrick Ferguson on drums and Dan Horowitz on bass – there is zero shortage on talent and commitment. These guys will show you what a live band should sound like.
Athenian Jack Logan makes an appearance on a couple tunes here. Cowriting and taking lead on “Iron On Sun,” Logan and the band find a phenomenal balance on a memorable track. “I bought a shirt there on the midway / On the front was an iron-on sun / On the back it said, ‘Keep on Truckin’ / On the front was a iron-on sun.” Logan also cowrote and sings on the smooth and fuzzy “Huckleberry Inn.”
The happiest and hookiest of the bunch may be the one-two punch of “Kids” and “Florida.” In another time and place, you may ask yourself, “Why is this not on the radio?” Closing out the album is arguably Five Eight’s most beautiful recording, “Once On The Lam,” a sparse and personal piece of work that should be the closing song at every show. “Once on the lam aren’t we all sorta strays / Keeping a home and a poem for those darkest days / If they return it’s why we burn to belong.”
Short of writing a novelette, there is no way to fully explain the greatness of St. Jude. Coming in at just over an hour, each song has its own story, its own power. Layered and complex, this may just be Five Eight’s most outstanding achievement yet. Your mission now, if you choose to accept it, is to buy Songs for St. Jude. More importantly, though, is to experience Five Eight live. You will never hear their music the same again. The biggest irony is the title of the album, as St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. This album is far from it.