Murder By Death
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
(Bloodshot Records)
★★★★★

When I first heard of Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death, I so desperately wanted folk tales that would send chills down the spine in the dead of night. What I experienced was modern folk tales. But instead of the deathly hallows of human emotional devastation, I experienced hope and life within the context of moral aptitude and the essence of what it is to be human.

On Good Morning, Magpie, the band grasps at deviance and uses “On The Dark Streets Below’s” flow to say, “Slow down, you lost your way. Start again and you will feel better.”  It’s sagely advice that is stark in my listening experience with this band. You don’t have to wonder far to find a degree of positivity in these songs. The mixture of rock and folk elements in the song, the ethics of bluegrass and Old Country, music without borders with the vast range of instruments, all combine to form a perfect union.

To give you a deep focus, listen to Red of Tooth and Claw or Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left Of Them.

Murder By Death – Straight At The Sun (live at The Stanley Hotel)

Stylistically we have heard everything from back porch acoustics to upbeat rockers. But Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is so much more. Their latest album is a journey led by the distinct vocals of Adam Turla. You could have Turla perform a reading of Tolkein, and it would turn into a dirty backroads nail biter. His musings blow around on Bitter Drink. And as each song bleed into each other, it does not take long for me to feel confident in saying that this is their best album yet.

This album should be played loud as the production allows it to handle the strain. Even the acoustic guitars are strummed at a relentless rate to present a power you would find in The Pogues or Hüsker Dü.

The album starts with Turla telling a story like a bearded, old man weaving ominous stories on the town bench like secrets buried in an antique store. The guitars chime in with haunting reverb to the notes, all plucked with delicate decision. I almost needed some prep time here. WhenI first realized what was actually going on, I had to instantly start back at the beginning to fully feel its intoxicating effect.

Murder By Death – Lost River

What really gets me is song three, “Straight in the Sun.” The strings, the guitars, the forcefulness of the rhythm all align to bring a punk stomp romp that has the same vibrancy as The Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer.” The song in its iconic pop construction will melt your face. Turla sings the chorus with such conviction. You want to get up and dance in the shadows of twisted tree limbs. The song is a celebration in autumnal ecstasy that illuminates Midwestern gray. It is clearly one of my favorite Murder By Death songs. Period.

It does not end there. “No Oath, No Spell” is striving for that personal freedom. A moderate tune, it’s a pleasantry to say the least. “I Came Around” distinctly has that Pogues cadence. The Irish undertones help convey this observation. It’s a song that will turn any show into a hootenanny where “Hard World” follows with perfect timing. Turla and Sarah Balliet sing like they are Johnny and June. If you close your eyes, you can really sense that spirit coming out of this song.

“The Curse of Elkhart” sounds more like a showdown at Tombstone. The horns will raise your adrenalin to new levels that accent any Calexico outing.

There is a firm knowledge and experience of the Southern Indiana hills written into the band’s mantra. I have walked through these songs, and I feel like they are a part of me. Who is to say it will do the same for you. But I would bet that through the band’s poetic descriptives, you will find this album enchanting.

Categories: Reviews

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