Murder By Death | Good Morning, Magpie (Vagrant)

Each indivdual song is its own tableau of drunken regret, hopeful longing, and bittersweet realization.

The first time I heard Murder by Death, it was on a homemade mix cd given to me by a friend. Every time Adam Turla’s voice kicked in on the track “Steal Away” from 2008’s Red of Tooth and Claw, I kept thinking I was listening to Nick Cave. That murder ballad feel was pervasive. Later that year, I caught their live set, and immediately went out to the merchandise table and bought the album. This band’s gritty, Southern gothic, gutter punk feel had captured me completely. In turns ghosts of the bayou and black-hatted cowboy movie reel, Murder by Death’s songs had a pleasing undercurrent of darkness, danger, and epic visions.

 Good Morning, Magpie picks up those threads and sets up the sequel to the stories of revenge put forth in the previous release. The bitterness and anger of those songs have finally subsided into an amber bottle of forgetfulness, a slow contemplation of regret and sunsets. The opening track is a tiny piece of nostalgia, as if we should be listening to these compositions on a 78” pressing through Great-Grandma’s gramophone. Good Morning, Magpie has a much fuller sound, almost operatic; I have heard this band described as “cinematic,” and I would agree. There is a certain spaghetti western soundtrack feel to all the songs, and this album, although not completely enmeshed in that film genre, could be the background score to a dark movie. They are the Coen Brothers set to music, with their vivid and twisted imagery weaving through every lyric, curving around every cello chord.

And whereas the album as a whole works as the soundtrack to a traveling carnival to rival the one from Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, each indivdual song is its own tableau of drunken regret, hopeful longing, and bittersweet realization. “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs,” sung in the song of the same name, could be this band’s tagline, for sure. “Piece by Piece” calls to mind that lumbering rider on the open prairie; it literally feels like a Western movie sunset, the lone rider moving off in silouhette. One thing Murder by Death accomplishes well with every song I’ve heard by them is creating mood. The different instruments layer and entwine with each other into tapestries of pure emotion, deep colors that burrow in deep and hold on tight. The title track is a funereal waltz in half time, the down beat of the drums holding up the imagined dancer by sheer force of will, crawling, parched, grasping as Turla finally belts forth, “my love, still you carry me home, little dove…” What he sings there is the lyrical opposite of the music, a love song set to a dirge, as if the couple were running away from The Walking Dude from Stephen King’s great Armageddon story. Their influences are myriad, both literary and musical. We’ve touched upon Bradbury and King, masters of the macabre, but musically, Murder by Death moves through Nick Cave, Ennico Morricone, and Johnny Cash, whose influence is felt and heard most strongly in “White Noise.” The Man in Black knew darkness, and pair “White Noise” with “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” from Cash’s American V, and you’re sure to put the fear of retribution and Judgement Day into the hearts and minds of all your friends.

Good Morning, Magpie is a smart collection of songs, appealing to more senses than just hearing.  Like fine whiskey, even not so fine whiskey, there’s a sting, then a warmth, and a deep sense of longing that can’t be drowned with just one swig, with just one listen.

 A | Courtney Rau

RIYL: Nick Cave, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Johnny Cash

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