It has been said that innovation and originality in music are a thing of the past. After all, the thinking goes, there are only 12 notes and they can only be arranged in so many ways. And it’s true that with the glut in music we are facing today, too many releases seem interchangeable, cookie cutter, different incarnations of the same basic formula.
So it’s refreshing to discover a band like Murder Murder. No, they’re not really that original, far from it, as they’re delving deep into time honoured musical traditions for their work. But, happily, they’ve come up with just enough of an angle to make their music stand out amidst the legions of bearded, hat and suspenders-wearing old time folk re-enactors picking and plucking their way through a bunch of musical and lyrical clichés.
Murder Murder call their music “Bloodgrass” (Bluegrass + Outlaw Country + Murder Ballads) and take their subject matter exclusively from the frozen forests of the Ontario Northland. It turns out that like all frontier areas, this region was once every bit as violent and blood-drenched as, say, the American West. Murder Murder want to give us all a little history lesson and draw our attention to the tumultuous history of their native area. It may sound a little gimmick-y but it works amazingly well, and From the Stillhouse is an excellent and enjoyable album.
So what we have is a musical offering that combines some very competent bluegrass musicianship with the spirit of outlaw country, and a healthy dose of punk rock attitude. Think a bit of Pogues energy with some of the darkness of a Nick Cave song or perhaps an ancient blues tune. Most of the songs are up tempo, rollicking merrily along with tales of dastardly deeds, hard luck stories, betrayal, jealousy and crimes of passion.
The CD is off to a running start with Sweet Revenge about a young man riding a long black train to wreak revenge on those who did him wrong . When the Water Runs Black, Evil Wind are song titles that sound like dime store novels or creepy old black and white movies.
The writing on this album is consistently strong, as in Movin on, written in the best country tradition about a ne’er-do-well vowing to change his ways.
The tempo doesn’t slow down until When the Lord Calls Your Name, the rare ballad on this album, sounding like a cross between vintage bluegrass and one of those wonderful Hank Williams tearjerkers that move you every time, no matter how many times you hear them.
The Last Gunfighter Ballad is a wild west tale that could have been written by the great Marty Robbins. Bridge Country ’41 is another highlight, a wistful ballad about a moonshine bootlegger.
There’s no filler on this album, every song stands on its own two feet and the playing, recording and production are all confident and robust. From the Stillhouse may not be a groundbreaking record, but its inventive combination of bluegrass and outlaw country makes it a welcome addition to the world of modern-day traditionalist musicians.
From The Stillhouse is Out Now