Much of a lifetime ago, folks including The Bad Livers, The Meat Purveyors, and Split Lip Rayfield created rock ‘n’ roll inspired bluegrass for a small community of followers who came of age musically with an appreciation for both Tupelo Honey and Uncle Tupelo. For the most part, these groups remained on the fringes of the wider (narrower?) bluegrass community, never substantially breaking through at the bluegrass festival or industry level.
A couple decades later, and on their third album, Murder Murder throw its hat into the ring from Sudbury, Ontario. This is not anything near traditional or contemporary bluegrass, but don’t let that stop you from looking behind those crates and amps stacked in the dark recesses of the music’s ‘big tent.’ If they hailed from Appalachia, Murder Murder would be renowned for their dark, honest, and vivid portrayals of mountain tales of tragedy. They aren’t playing for us grey hairs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention.
Setting the majority of their original numbers at the edges of society and deep in rural backwaters, with Wicked Lines & Veins Murder Murder unleash an abundance of misery upon their audience. At turns deliberately profane (“Reesor County Fugitive” ), violently absurd (“I’ve Always Been A Gambler”), and emotionally cutting (“The Last Daughter”), Murder Murder’s narrative tales of desperation and malevolence place them at the fore of whatever alt-grass circuit currently exists. Their characters are ones who would find Fred Eaglesmith’s urbane and uppity, Little Willie and his historical brethren visionary-thinking, fair-minded and considered rapscallions.
To be fair, the tables are turned in “Goodnight, Irene,” (not the Huddie Ledbetter song) and justified comeuppance dispensed in “The Death of Waylon Green” and “Shaking Off The Dust.” Few are the songs that do not find someone ending up on the wrong side of a gun, knife, or bottle of bleach. Playing the traditional bluegrass instruments, along with organ and drums, Murder Murder isn’t like anyone else I’ve heard: if you enjoy The Earl Brothers and The D.Rangers, you should find this group of Canadian independents of interest. Their songwriting is stellar, and the lead vocals are especially appealing, if not smooth and pretty.
With homage paid to the tradition (in “I’ve Always Been a Gambler,” the cuckoo remains a pretty bird that warbles as she flies–elsewhere there’s a hemlock grove, gallows, and betrayal–in ways both apparent and subtle, Murder Murder have crafted an intentionally abrasive interpretation of bluegrass, one where love songs culminate at the end of a rope and a burned-out barroom (“Abilene”) and a child’s revenge in a rich man’s pasture (“Sharecropper’s Son.”)
In no way do Murder Murder sound like the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Steep Canyon Rangers, or Balsam Range. What they do possess is the spirit of originality willing to break through long-established norms and mores to uncover creative freshness within a genre that, without question, benefits from periodic injections of unbridled energy and influence.