Album Review: Murder By Death – Red of Tooth and Claw

February 5, 2009

Artist: Murder By Death

Album: Red of Tooth and Claw

Released: Vagrant Records, 2008

Reviewer: Robert Lennon

red-of-tooth-and-claw

A dark Americana version of “The Odyssey”, “Red of Tooth and Claw” showcases the strengths of Murder By Death, even if the songs are not particularly intricate. With the loss of original keyboardist Vincent Edwards, the band has had to musically pull back in some respects, but in return they have branched into new territory, heavily influenced by the darker side of country music.

Adam Turla’s voice has shifted once again in this album, taking a lot from Johnny Cash. Listening to the the first song “Comin’ Home”, one can be excused thinking at first the album is a Cash release. But the writing has slipped a little in this album. There are some fine lyrics, but most of the songs follow the same formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus ad terminum. The theme of the album, as Turla described it, is “The Odyssey” without the sympathetic character at the center, and the songs reflect that. Revenge, lust, wanton violence, all of these are present in the album, they just don’t seem to hold as much strength as in the last album “In Bocca Al Lupo.”

In terms of music, cellist Sarah Balliet steals the album. Her skill is manifested throughout the album, almost too much, but not quite. The band does well by balancing her with other instrumentation. Perhaps the best show of this is the instrumental track in the middle “Theme (For Ennio Morricone)”. The band really shows off how far they’ve come from their early work. It’s just a shame they didn’t extend that to every song.

All together, this is a solid album. Murder By Death tried something new and made a leap musically, and while they didn’t quite land on both feet, they made a good show of it. Reprising themes about the dark side of human nature, Turla’s writing has some fine images interspersed with a few clichés, but holds up well. Check it out for a good country-alternative mix.

Stand Out Tracks: Fuego!, Theme (For Ennio Morricone), Spring Break 1899

Murder By Death is:

  • Adam Turla – lead vocals, guitars, keyboards
  • Sarah Balliet – cello
  • Dagan Thogerson – drums, percussion
  • Matt Armstrong – bass
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