Ever wondered what Free, The Rolling Stones or The Faces would have sounded like with a cross between Maggie Bell, Aretha Franklin and a more tuneful Janis Joplin fronting them. Well if you have you can find out now ….. and you don’t need a time machine or a computer generated music maker either. You just need to get out and get yourself a copy of “Diary Of A Soul Fiend” the debut album from the London based soul/rock outfit Saint Jude. The five peice who have picked up more than a few disciples on the rock scene in the last year or so are made up of Adam Greene on guitar, a player who has obviously learnt from the Paul Kossoff ‘less is more’ handbook, no self indulgent flashiness here, just quality playing, understated when necessary, explosive when called for. Lee Cook on the drums, a man who can bang out a beat with the best of them but also displays a rare sensitive touch for such a powerful drummer in the quieter moments. Colin Palmer Kellogg a bass player with just the right amount of funk and steady swaying rhythm who reminds me of a cross between Andy Fraser and Roger Glover. Keyboard player Elliot Mortimore who uses his instrument to great effect holding many of the songs together with a swirling rich sound as well as a few bursts of great honky tonk boogie woogie piano. And finally, but by no means leastly the vocal powerhouse that is Lynne Jackaman. For me she instantly gains the moniker of the female Paul Rodgers and as many of you will know that is high praise indeed from me. The comparisons to the likes of Joplin, Maggie Bell and co are going to be obvious but what is clear after a few run throughs of this album is that she is no one trick pony blues rock shouter. She has an incredible smokey whiskey laced tone which is powerful when it needs to be and superbly delicate and fragile whe called for.
“Diary Of A Soul Fiend” was recorded at Saint Claire Studios in Lexington during 2010 with Chris Kimsey at the production desk and one of the first things that hits you about it is the feel. This is all retro classic seventies rock tone and mood but with an edge that makes it relevant to todays audiences as well. The use of horns, backing vocals and the superbly crafted melodies could have you believing that this is some long lost obscure classic from a bunch of un-named superstar musicians of yesteryear rather than a debut album from a relatively young band.
Opening track ‘Soul On Fire’ has a hard hitting riff which kicks off the album in superb style with its soul tinged Maggie Bell/Janis Joplin like vocals and some great boogie woogie piano and use of horns. ‘Garden Of Eden’ is a struttier number with another classic dirty rock riff. Groove wise it is very Free like musically and has the same ‘flat tyres on a muddy road’ feel that was often used to describe them. Add to that a nice gentle bridge with a tribal drum beat, a good solo and a great ending. And you have a superbly crafted and structured song that leads perfectly into one of the albums classic standout tracks. That track is ‘Little Queen’ which has another superb driving riff and also one of the albums best melodies ….. on an album that is choc full of them. The chorus and lyrics give the track a great stickability and you will be singing along before you finish the first run through. With its gravelly vocal , another good guitar solo and the way it builds before veering into a nice acoustic section only to explode back into a full blown belter it is clearly for me the best of the heavier rockier tracks. ‘Down This Road’ ws the first song the band wrote after getting together and is the first of the slower more bluesy soul like tracks. It has a gentle and slow acoustic opening before the backing vocals come in and give it an almost gospel feel. The track also highlights Jackaman’s top quality voice. After the rockier mainly uptempo sound of the first three tracks this one features the more soulful delicate and fragile side of her voice. Jackaman is not the only star here though as it also shows that the instrumentalists have studied their art and know how to craft a mood and feeling within a song. It ends with another tasteful solo and my only criticism of it is that it could have been extended and turned into an even more atmospheric piece than it already is.
The next track ‘Down and Out’ has another great seventies tinged intro straight from the Free or Traffic songbook which leads into what is certainly, for me at least, the best melody and the most passionate vocal on the album. It features a great instrumental section too with some top quality organ behind a tasteful understated guitar. The ending is perfect with the horns and bell sounds. Overall it is a superbly structured, composed and performed track. With each and every band member at the top of their game throughout. It is the personal favourite and album highlight for me and not only because it was totally relevant to my personal situation when I first heard it. It is a rare 10/10 track for me and sits comfortably in the same bracket as tracks like Free’s ‘Be My Friend’ or ‘Come Together In The Morning’. It’s a proper lump in the throat in the job.
The second half of the album gets under way with ‘Pleased To Meet You’ which after the previous two slower numbers takes us back to the early sound with its strutting classic rock bar room riff. As with all the songs on offer here though it never sacrifices melody in search of power. ‘Angel’ is another slower more soul tinged song but with a heavy blues undertone. Again it has a tough rock riff which compliments Jackaman’s heartfelt vocal perfectly. There is also some great instrumentalisation going on underneath the vocal with nicely picked guitar notes and the atmospheric organ. The solo even has a pacy prog like under water feel to it. As with most of the tracks on the album it features a great mix of dirty sound and perfect clarity. The high tempo finale even has some great blues wailing from Jackaman. ‘Rivers and Streams’ has another acoustic intro and a dreamy whiskey laced vocal which is once again packed full of emotion and an almost Zeppelinesque instrumental section and solo. ‘Parallel Life’ has a very early eighties Whitesnake sound to begin with, the riff not being unlike a funkier version of the one from the track ‘Hit and Run’ on the “Come An Get It” album. It also has the same heavy dirty guitar riffing sound in between the vocal which was so favoured by the classic British bands of the early eighties. It is possibly the most out and out straight up rock track on the album even with the funky riff. ‘Southern Belles’ follows in a similar vein ensuring the album ends on a hard but still melodious note. Once again there is a nice change of tempo during the middle part before it builds back to an explosive ending with Jackaman veering between Maggie Bell and a far more tuneful version of Janis Joplin as she did at the start of the album.
Saint Jude are a breath of fresh air in the current rock scene and have perfectly managed to marry the sound and feel of the retro rock scene with a modern day excitement. Jackaman will obviously be the focal point in press coverage but the remainder of the band are as integral to the sound and all members compliment each other perfectly. Make no mistake this is a band in the truest sense of the word and not just a vehicle for Jackaman. There will obviously be comparisons made to the long defunct The Mother Station (thanks Catherine) but hopefully Saint Jude will achieve more success than they did.
“Diary Of A Soul Fiend” is packed full of beautiful melodies, superb musicianship, tasteful solos, stomping riffs and whiskey laced heartfelt vocals. It is an essential purchase for lovers of classic rock music and is for me the best debut album from a band since Cry Of Love’s “Brother” in 1993 or even the first Bad Company album. Yes, it really is that good.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM September 2011