Christ this is a bit harsh. No, actually that doesn’t even come close to doing it justice: harrowing is what this record is. And brilliant.
This is the real Murder Ballads. Taking ten songs of murders and deaths from the psychopath to the wrongly executed, Frank and Murry have turned them into deep, dark, portentous country folk ballads with genuine emotional impact. The comparisons are easy: as you might expect they occupy a sort of Williard Grant Conspiracy/Johnny Cash/Nick Cave territory but they also in voice and tempo can remind me a little of British Americana-merchant Lucky Jim’s first album.
The music is surprisingly variable, despite and oppressive air of foreboding throughout, and the adventurous arrangements lift this well clear of the albums of morose balladeering you might fear from the description. Glimpses of Nick Cave’s sinister god, Tom Waits’ deranged carnival and Johnny Cash’s tragic amorality tales drift in and out, adding layers and depth.
If you don’t like your gothic country noir then I guess you’d better steer clear, but honestly if this sounds like it’s vaguely in your territory then buy it. Evocative, paralysing ghost stories swirl around this record and grip you tight. And then you remind yourself, these are not stories, they are histories.
Bob Frank & John Murry – Tupelo Mississippi, 1936
Bob Frank & John Murry – Jesse Washington, 1916