“From the Stillhouse” – Murder Murder

3 stars (out of 5)

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From the Stillhouse scrollerWell I have to admit it’s an interesting idea. Not just an album of songs on one theme; this is much more ambitious than that. Murder Murder want to write, record and play nothing but murder ballads set in their own corner of southern Canada. Murder Murder is a six-piece bluegrass/string band from Sudbury, Ontario comprising Jon Danyliw (vocals, guitar and mandolin), Sam Cassio (vocals, guitar and mandolin), Geoff McCausland (fiddle), Barry Miles (vocals, banjo, dobro), Kris Dickson (upright bass) and Steph Duschene (percussion) and there’s no doubt that they make a glorious noise and have a lot of fun in the process (just listen out for fiddle and mandolin making train noises in the opener “Sweet Revenge”).

The murder theme doesn’t make the album monotonous, far from it. The songs are mainly uptempo bluegrass, with a couple of exceptions, “Bridge County ‘41” a story of moonshine turf wars and “When the Lord Calls Your Name”, a slow ¾ time hellfire sermon from a reformed killer turned preacher. The lyrical themes vary widely from the fairly standard runaway song “Movin’ On” with its beautiful keening harmonies through the infatuated teenager of “Evil Wind” to the very unusual gay love triangle of “Duck Cove”.

Besides the ten originals there’s even a cover of the Guy Clark song “The Last Gunfighter Ballad”. It wasn’t intended as a tribute, but it seems to have worked out that way. The album can be a lot of fun at times, with plenty of variety and some very good songs, but I still have reservations about the single theme running through it, and presumably through however many albums the band make in the future. It seems a slightly strange choice to commit so completely to one particular sub-genre to the extent of enshrining it the band’s name; who knows? It’s certainly worth forty-five minutes of your time and checking them out live next time they come to the UK.

“From the Stillhouse” is released on Friday June 24th.

Meanwhile, have a look at the video for “Movin’ On”: