In theory, a band like Murder Murder doesn’t seem like the type of band that can sustain its premise. As its gruesome, tautological title says, they deal in murder—specifically murder ballads (don’t worry. they probably don’t deal in actual murder). But here we are, and the Sudbury band has released its second album full of “bloodgrass” murder ballads.
That brings the total to 27 recorded murder ballads thus far, and From the Stillhouse proves that a) Murder Murder can probably extend this “murder ballads only” premise to infinity and b) the band are masters at conveying these tales creatively.
Over this album’s 11 songs, there’s just about every bluegrass form one can imagine, and many different ways to tell a story that, of course, features one or more people dying more myriad reasons. There’s a cowboy ballad; there’s a gritty tale of war at sea; there are numerous shady characters, some of whom are trying to right their lives. But all are compelling in their own ways.
Any good bluegrass act needs to have a few barn burners, and Stillhouse has a few. Opener “Sweet Revenge” is one of those, with the banjo and fiddle going to maximum overdrive for a song about, you guessed it, revenge. Lots of people drop like flies on this one. And there’s something to be said about a fiddle imitating the sound of a train’s whistle. “Alberta Oil” also moves at a brisk pace, telling the tale of a Texan who goes north to cash in on oil opportunities. The song’s victim might not be who you expect.
The album on plenty of occasions plays deceptively upbeat music to make the stories all the more hard-hitting. The character in “Movin’ On” seems like one who can only move up; he’s aiming for “No more trouble in my life” and by the end of the song it seems like he’s doing a good job. Of course the story is far from over.
The band does well with more ominous-sounding songs like the powerful instrumental opening of “Where the Water Runs Black,” as well as the excellent “Bridge County ’41.” That song continues to escalate in intensity from its swampy beginnings and ends on an entirely unexpected note to end. Then there’s the also-stellar “Duck Cove,” the aforementioned sea-battle story that shifts instrumental gears as things turn more and more grim.
There’s also some solid middle-ground for laments. “When the Lord Calls Your Name” is a slow, sombre embrace of death, while “The Last Gunfighter” (a Guy Clark cover) conveys well the words of a tired duelist.
There’s a lot to love despite all the spilled blood, and let’s hope Murder Murder can stay inventive as they write their 100th murder ballad.
Top Tracks: “Duck Cove”; “Bridge County ’41”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)