Dallas record label Saustex Records sent a package of awesomeness a week or two ago, and the first thing I saw when opening up the box was Five Minutes to Live’s cover, featuring a cartoon version of that iconic picture of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. Appropriately enough, the four-song EP is a tribute to the Man in Black, as performed by Jocephus and the George Jonestown Massacre, a Memphis band described as a cross between Merle Haggard and Motörhead.
The songs are, with the exception of the final track, “Long Black Veil,” rather obscure Cash cuts. “The Losing Kind,” which kicks off the EP, was never officially released, despite being recorded in 1960. Recorded at the same session that produced “The Losing Kind,” the title track was written for a 1961 film of the same name, which starred the musician as a “maniacal hoodlum,” alongside Vic Tayback and a young Ron Howard. The song didn’t see an actual release until Record Store Day of 2017, via a limited 7″ on Sleazy Records. “The Sound of Laughter” was only available on a ‘70s German compilation called The Tall Man until it was compiled on the Love God Murder box set in 2000.
All the tracks feature Jocephus and the George Jonestown Massacre alongside some really fantastic guest performers. Most notably, W.S. Holland — Cash’s drummer for the Tennessee Three for nearly 50 years — is featured on every song. Opening cut, “The Losing Kind,” has JD Pinkus of Honky and the Butthole Surfers on vocals, and it ends up sounding an awful lot like a Supersuckers cut. That’s always a good thing. The Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey fairly well croons on the title track, which is a by-the-numbers Cash tune in its original form. Thankfully, Harvey gives it a little more life than Cash himself, and the same can be said for Jocephus on “The Sound of Laughter,” which gets some nice fiddle from another Bad Seed, Warren Ellis.
King Buzzo of the Melvins tackles the final cut, “Long Black Veil,” which Cash recorded in innumerable versions, and it’s way less weird and way more great than you’d expect. If you’ve heard Osborne’s 2014 solo acoustic album, This Machine Kills Artists, you shouldn’t be too terribly surprised, but it’s still a bit of a shock to hear him do country.
The music’s robust, with a bit of a rockabilly feel to everything, although far better produced than most classic cuts. Hell, it’s also better sounding than most of the genre’s revivalists, who seem devoted to recording in the lowest fidelity possible. Here’s proof that the music can have some range and still have heart. “The Losing Kind” is perhaps the most straightforward of them all, but every cut on Five Minutes to Live is a touching homage, without being slavishly devoted to recreating a lost sound.
The cover looks like a comic book, and it’s really quite striking. Saustex’s cover art has never been the best looking, coming across as a label more concerned with music than image, but this package by Ronnie Lewis looks great. The printed inner sleeve features quite a few of the label’s other releases, and it kind of emphasizes that point, but it also reminds you that the Dallas label has releases from the Service Industry, Pinata Protest, Hickoids, and the Sons of Hercules, which is a pretty impressive roster.
Five Minutes to Live is available on vinyl from Saustex.