Murder by Death | Red of Tooth and Nail (Vagrant)

cd_murder-by-death.jpgSimply having a low voice isn’t necessarily impressive if nothing special is done with it.







Sometimes, records unravel so organically they feel like one song: a single complete and beautifully articulated thought. Other times, an album feels like a single song’s been stretched over 50 minutes of music, monotonously pulsing with irritating repetition. Sadly, Murder by death’s latest, Red of Tooth and Claw, falls into the latter category.

Adam Turla’s voice has been lauded by critics for its depth (now deeper than ever) but I wonder why. Simply having a low voice isn’t necessarily impressive if nothing special is done with it. Turla achieves nothing striking with his baritone, makes no exceptional references to American roots music, and provides only brief moments of fragility; alas he is no Tom Waits, and no Stephin Merrit. Although passionate, it only ends up contributing to the album’s vaguely cliché sense of the "Old West."

"Coming Home" kicks off this quartet’s Vagrant debut, with Turla doing his best Johnny Cash impression. He snarls violently in a half-singing, half-talking way. Sarah Balliet picks up an impressive solo toward the end, where she attacks her cello with redneck fury, bowing it fiddle-quick, but it isn’t enough to bail out the song. Turla’s words are simple, colorless and devoid of humor. If they were aiming for "Boy Named Sue," they’ve ended up with "Devil Went Down to Georgia."

But this album does have its moments; "Theme (for Ennio Morricone)" is exactly what the title suggests. Puffy trumpets weep over a proud snare march. It captures a scene Morricone so often dealt with: tumbleweeds sweeping across a pale dessert, Eastwood drawing a six-barrel from his side (you know the rest). This slower tune shows what the rest of the album is missing, patience, maturity and elegance. This Western/Americana theme is carried through the rest of the album, but it never gets as poignant as this instrumental tune.

Balliet shines through on this record, constantly picking up where her counterparts stop short. She varies rhythms and roles, breaking out of the background in an energetic solo before being washed back down beneath guitars. She breaths some life into these stodgy tunes, plugging the holes and filling the cracks of tiresome nostalgia. The orchestral arrangements from previous records are abandoned here. Instead, she adds catchy counter melodies and supporting riffs in guitar-like fashion.

All-in-all, Red of Tooth and Nail succeeds in its mediocrity. The only compelling opinion I get when listening is that it’s just so-so. It provides a well-worn Southern take on indie-rock, but fails to deliver the poignancy, variance or energy we have come to expect from MBD. C- | Glen Elkins

RIYL: William Elliot Whitmore, The Black Heart Procession, Ludo

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