Their press release calls Murder By Death a “blend of rocking Americana noir and dramatic post-punk.” I call it “country,” and not in a dismissive way at all. Country’s had a hard time of things lately, with rock fans having to find new ways to describe the country songs they enjoy for fear of one day showing up at a Randy Travis concert. So for those like me who have found (however accidentally) a love for the kind of country music Murder By Death plays, here’s an easy way to think about it: What is known as “country music” today, composed of such hit machines as Garth Brooks and Faith Hill, is in truth a new brand of adult contemporary lite rock and has been labeled “new country” for this very reason. Every song’s a ballad, every song pleases your mom, and every song has “heart”… you get the idea. But “New Country” ain’t “Country.” “Country” includes early rockabilly. It blended seamlessly with Chuck Berry and inspired most of the British Invasion. Don’t be afraid to admit you like pre-Rick Rubin Johnny Cash. It doesn’t make you old or wussy or anything. Become a patriot of country, for that is a patriot of rock.
Red Of Tooth And Claw could do much for our cause of rescuing country from the smiling maw of Trisha Yearwood, and what’s more the band knows it! Their music betrays the forced labels of their press release in marvelous fashion, revealing a shaggy, ass-kicking, mature country rock set. For crying out loud, they’re from Indiana and wrote a song titled “Theme (For Ennio Morricone),” a name as synonoumous with Westerns as horses and shootouts. Label it whatever you want, isn’t “great” just great? The record’s dark style, moody lyrics and moaning choruses put most metal bands to shame for this is not dark faux anger. This is that kind of drink-yourself-to-sleep wail working at a very primal level.
A tight quartet that includes a cello, MBD open with “Coming Home,” one of those textbook opening songs that sets you up for everything to come while simultaneously giving none of the upcoming surprises away. I’m a firm believer that there is more power in the sound of the lyrics than in the meaning of those lyrics, and singer Adam Turla has nailed it. That’s not to say his lyrics aren’t good, but that they work as one with the music of each song. “Ash” could perfectly haunt a post-break-up weeping fests and if they were remaking “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn,” Salma Hayek would do her vampire-queen dance to “Black Spot.” They wrap things up with “Spring Break 1899,” one of those great album closers that works in antithesis to the great album opener, reminding us of what we’ve just been loving while giving us even more. Before it starts you hope for a misprinting on the track listing, and that the album isn’t over. But as Turla moans, “Could it be you!” over and over again and the band crashes and crescendos, our brains know better and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a grand finale worthy of its build up and worthy of the old masters. In a song, MBD saddles up, tips their hat and rides into the sunset with blood on their boots. Go watch Once Upon a Time In The West and listen to this album and tell me that country doesn’t kick.