Murder By Death’s new album is nothing like what I expected, and that’s a very good thing I’ve decided.
Their last effort, 2008’s “Red of Tooth and Claw,” was one of my favorite albums of the millennium’s first decade with its taut, aggressive cowboy rock. “Good Morning, Magpie,” on the other hand, is full of a bunch of loose, easygoing songs meant to be sung around a dying campfire in the middle of a desert. It’s more country than rock, but in a weird way manages to incorporate elements of swing that continue to remind me of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Frontman Adam Turla’s voice is as supple as ever, channeling his Johnny Cash-meets-Days of the New more than ever here, since he’s really singing these shambling ditties rather than howling over the fiendish entries from “Claw.” One thing that hasn’t changed is his macabre subject matter. He can be darkly funny—“You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shaving with a Knife),” “As Long as There Is Whiskey in the World”—or just dark—ahem, “On the Dark Streets Below”—but either way these are dustbowl anthems of the best kind.
No writeup of Murder By Death is complete, though, without mentioning cellist Sarah Balliet, who perhaps benefits the most from the softer tones of “Magpie” that allow her distinct talent and instrument to take an even stronger role than before. Balliet is the linchpin of this group; her strings complete the aura of Murder By Death and make the band stand out from its peers.
So “Magpie” isn’t as quite as accessible as the last record but rewards repeated listens. It’s an excellent change of pace, and one I’ve grown to enjoy more and more with every spin. And tacked on as if to remind us all they still know how to bring the heat, MBD close the record with “The Day,” an epic throwback that thunders with apocalyptic malevolence—an excellent end to a fine effort.
Favorite Track: “The Day”
Least Favorite Track: “Piece By Piece”