Back in 2006 John Murry teamed up with Bob Frank to record World Without End, a blood soaked album of murder ballads that impressed all right minded folk who heard it. Now, five years in the making, is his solo debut, an album that astonishes in its depth and nakedness, miles removed from tales of trappers and killers and such. The Graceless Age strips the artist bare then clothes him in a wonderful sonic tapestry that ranges from pained piano led confessionals to sumptuous narcotic pillows of sound that swirl and beguile the listener. Murry appears to be a man with his own demons to deal with. Prone to narcotics, truculent, likely to disappear on a whim, this document is testament to the faith and guidance of his co producer on the album, Tim Mooney, who forged it from the various sessions over several years and the release is overshadowed by the untimely and tragic death of Mooney last month. With Mooney perhaps best known as the drummer with American Music Club it’s tempting to overvalue the similarities here with Mark Eitzel’s miserablism particularly given Murry’s vocal similarity to Eitzel. Overall however this tapestry is more akin to the dark and disturbed world of Mark Linkhouse’s dark and disturbing world view.
From the South but exiled in California Murry exhibits a love hate relationship with the past and the present. A descendent of William Faukner he’s happy to mix in an excerpt of Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech as proof of his Southern roots but he also equates the South with tragedy and despair as on Things We Lost in The Fire (stating in his on-line notes that his house actually burned down), an episode mentioned again on Photograph. If I’m To Blame is a bitter and caustic acceptance that his behaviour is ingrained and responsible for ruining a relationship while Southern Sky pursues this concept of fire and retribution being forever close by. The closing song, a cover of Bobby Whitlock’s Thorn Tree In The Garden epitomises the idea of evil growing in a Southern paradise.
Away from the South California fares no better with Murry glinting and blinded by the sun and telling his partner that it’s not her but “California I can’t stand.” A cracked tolling bell introduces this song California before a pneumatic bass line pumps the song into a druggy rhythm, an aural equivalent of the lassitude induced by heat and sun. Murry’s vocals however rail against this with an anger that however seems to be fairly impotent as it’s dulled by tranquillisers. This sense of a hypnagogic hallucination weaves throughout songs like The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid while Penny Nail encapsulates a nihilistic world view with references to Thomas Bernhard’s novel The Loser (about artists who when they realise they can never achieve the height of genius they contemplate suicide).
Heavy stuff indeed but at a roots level this is an album of immaculately realised songs. Doom laden they may be but the beautiful guitar parts, the occasional orchestration and overall lushness of it all makes for a wonderful noise and one that repays repeated listening. A dark cousin to Brian Wilsons’ California dreaming perhaps with the dense and elaborate Southern Sky a contender for song of the year as it pounds and insinuates its way into the listener’s brain. Little Coloured Balloons could easily fit into Neil Young’s lost trilogy while Photograph trumps anything Son Volt released. As a portrait of the artist it is at times frightening but one hopes that a catharsis of sorts results and Murry continues to achieve the heights he hits here. It’s fair here to point one in the direction of his blog where Murry chews over the album with the assistance of some fairly candid observations from his colleagues including Chuck Prophet. A unique opportunity to delve into his muse.