John Murry. John Murry Is Dead.

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Don’t worry, that’s not a headline, just the name of the latest EP from Mr. Murry compiled to tie in with his recent short tour down South. Regular Blabber’n’Smoke readers will know of Murry’s trials and tribulations, his past addiction issues and more recent hassles with the recording business. More importantly they’ll know that he is capable of making music that is emotionally direct, his thoughts tumbling out over confessional ballads and scorched earth waves of sounds. His 2012 album The Graceless Age, surely in the running for top ten status at the end of this decade, remains the foundation for most fans but anyone lucky enough to have seen him live in the past few years will testify to his ongoing ability to transfix an audience, even reduce to them to tears with the power of his performance.

It’s not been an easy road for Murry since the triumph of The Graceless Age. Rather than reiterate it here I’d advise you to head over to his revamped website where there’s an eloquent summary written by Oliver Gray, one of the folk who have been unfailing in their support of Murry. The good news is that things are looking up. The follow up to The Graceless Age is as good as in the can, Murry having headed to Canada to record with Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. He’s been granted residential status in Ireland and is happily ensconced in the small city of Kilkenny, there’s a documentary on him in production and he’s bringing out a graphic novel that will portray episodes from his life so far.

While we await the album John Murry Is Dead is an EP produced to tie in with his recent short tour of England. Hard copies were available at his concerts and it will soon be available to buy digitally via his website. For the most part it’s the result of Murry’s involvement with the Tamalpais Research Institute (TRI) , a state of the art studio and web platform set up by The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir who produced one of the songs here, Murry’s anguished cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s What becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Cloaked in ecclesiastical organ fills, Murry croons his pain away here. Weir also turns up on the centrepiece of the EP, Murry’s current magnum opus, Oscar Wilde. On a song that most definitely captures the feel and range of those on The Graceless Age Murry describes a society under surveillance, swayed by the media, driven to home grown terrorism as Irish wit Wilde looks down. At least I think that’s what some of it is about but it’s delivered excellently, revisiting The Graceless Age’s “sumptuous narcotic pillows of sound that swirl and beguile the listener.” Piano, organ, violin and pedal steel guitar slither throughout the song as Murry’s voice pleads and intones brilliantly. Weir appears at the very end here on a strangulated and brief attempt to play Dixieland on trumpet.

The Wrong Man opens the EP and it captures Murry at the top of his game. Again his voice shines, he sounds vulnerable, wounded, the music a delightful confection of Wurlitzer keyboards and dreamy guitar over a smattering of cymbals. He then covers Peter Gabriel’s creepy crawly Intruder, the drums here recalling the original but overall it’s much murkier recalling the Manson clan’s habit of invading homes without alerting the sleeping occupants. It’s claustrophobic and menacing. Finally there’s the intriguing One Day, billed here as a Rick Vargas remix of As I Lay Dying (Vargas one of the engineers at TRI and who produced several of the songs here). A blizzard of effects, wonky guitars and keyboards blitz the song , reminiscent at times of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse  as Murry, buried but still audible proclaims his resurrection from his addiction days but accepts and indeed proclaims that in the end we’re all dust.

A very welcome addition to the Murry canon then and hopefully just a taste of what’s to come. The EP will soon be available here along with a previous EP, Perfume and Decay and an odds and sods collection The Resurrection of John Quixote, both also well recommended.

Here’s an earlier version of The Wrong Man…

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‘The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse’

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A documentary about the late, enigmatic Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse will make its U.K debut at The Union Chapel, Islington on Friday the 25th of June. A cult and hugely influential figure in the alternative music scene, the critically acclaimed Linkous had a dramatic life that saw him battle with drug and alcohol addiction, paralysis, and debilitating mental illness that resulted in his eventual suicide. Sparklehorse’s music was heralded by his peers and critics; a mix of delicate pop, discordant punk and melodic odyssey. It has been described as “defiantly surrealist… with all manner of references to smiling babies, organ music, birds, and celestial bodies.” His collaborators included PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, The Flaming Lips, Danger Mouse, David Lynch, Thom Yorke (Radiohead), and Nina Persson (The Cardigans) to name but a few.

After Linkous’ suicide in 2010, U.K. based filmmakers Alex Crowton and Bobby Dass decided to create a film about Mark’s life and music, having previously worked with the singer to make a promo film. They invited Linkous’ friend and collaborator, Angela Faye Martin to invoke a narrative about the artist’s darkly powerful oeuvre and with an eye for the poignancy of his brief life of 47 years, they embarked on a  portrayal of the life and work of a creative genius at odds with his world, the anti-creative forces Linkous metaphorically referred to as, ‘witches of white noise’.

The film features interviews with Linkous himself as well as; Jonathan Donahue & Grasshopper (Mercury Rev), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven), Emily Haines (Metric), Adrian Utley (Portishead), John Parish (PJ Harvey), Matthew Wright, Ed Harcourt, Gemma Hayes and others. The Union Chapel showing will include a Q& A with writer & Co-Producer/ Directors (Alex Crowton & Bobby Dass) plus performances from Gemma Hayes, Adrian Utley, Happyness & Angela Faye Martin.

Currently this London premier is the only planned UK showing of the film although it is expected that further showings throughout the UK will be arranged. The producers have also mentioned plans for eventual DVD release. In the meantime, here are the trailers and a couple of clips from the film. you can get more information regarding the film from this website and tickets for the London showing can be got here.

 

 

The Desoto Caucus Offramp Rodeo

The Desoto Caucus are the Danish contingent of Giant Sand comprising Anders Pedersen(guitar, vocals), Peter Dombernowsky(Drums, percussion),Nikolaj Heyman (bass, keyboards) and Thøger T. Lund (guitar, vocals). They’ve basically been Howe Gelb’s sidekicks for the past ten years since Pederson, Lund and Dombernowsky first backed Howe Gelb on his solo release The Listener. When Gelb decamped to Canada to record his acclaimed gospel album Sno’ Angel the trio used the downtime to record an album under the name of The Desoto Caucus. Reconvening with Gelb, Heyman came on board the Sand line up and he now comprises the fourth part of the fully formed Caucus.
While their first release, EliteContinentalCustomClub slipped under the radar Offramp Rodeo is getting a proper release (via Glitterhouse in Europe) and certainly should be high on the listening agenda for anyone who is moved by the magisterial Gelb and his ever widening circle. While it would be unfair to categorise The Desoto Caucus as Giant Sand sound a likes there’s no doubt that these Danes have had the opportunity to marinate in Gelb’s unique sensibilities before finding inspiration for their own flight. While they have that loose limbed sense of ambling through a song, stumbling on shards of jagged guitar and tripping over unexpected sonic blips that characterises much of Gelb’s work they also find inspiration from the likes of Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous and Bill Callahan and manage to forge their own identity with Pedersen, who wrote all of the songs (two co written with Heyman) rising to the occasion with some fine lyrics.
Recorded in Denmark the album has a warm intimate close up feel, the percussion gently thumps and sparkles while the vocals and guitars slowly burn like the dying embers of a log fire that occasionally sparks and sputters. Live In The Stream is a strong opener with a propulsive throbbing beat and a hypnotic vocal from Pederson which manages to recall Sparklehorse and ends with a short burst of clanging guitar. OCB is the most Giant Sand like piece here as Pederson and Lund sing in very close harmony about Offbeat Circuit Breakers but the following title song is a much airier affair with pedal steel adorning a strummed guitar and Pedersen crooning like Bill Callahan from Smog. With snippets of marimba, glockenspiel and African percussion there’s a sweet undercurrent to this very pretty song. The kpanloko drum from Africa makes another appearance on the evocative Full Moon, a dreamlike affair with a great percussion track and fine supporting vocals from Sille Krill.
Fine as these selections are the band pull out all of the stops on a brace of songs that up the thrill stakes and demonstrate that this is a band and not just a side project. Despite Pedersen’s claim in his fine liner notes that they find straight forward rock songs difficult Here’s One disproves this from the start as guitars fizz and explode over a driving drum beat that is embroidered by piano, organ, glockenspiel, tubular bells and trombone ending up in an veritable Smörgåsbord of sound. Leaving Odessa is an impressionistic take on images of Texas and life on the road that flies high with some fine stratospheric pedal steel and some very impressive percussion from Dombernowsky. Firesale is another collection of lyrical impressions where the band attempt to capture the feel of being “European explorers in the new world.” The song starts off gently before building up to a cinematic wide screen sound with echoes of Morricone with muted tubular bell and softly shimmering percussion adding a faded grandeur. The short Even So slouches into view and out again briefly but it’s a fine gnarled effort showcasing Heyman’s guitar. Closing the album, Last Call just about sums the band up as Dembernowsky employs numerous percussive devices to drive the song while guitars snake in and out, snapping at the heels of Pedersen’s slow drawl on a song that would not be out of place on Jim White’s Wrong Eyed Jesus album.
Overall this is a strong collection of songs that is improved by the musical dexterity of the band as repeated listens unveil little sonic quirks and embellishments. Well recommended of course for fans of Giant Sand but well worth a listen for anyone interested in the slightly offbeat side of Americana that steers clear of Nashville and finds inspiration in the less travelled roads.

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R.I.P Mark Linkous

Coming after the suicide of Vic Chesnutt news today of the death of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous is a great blow. Heaven help anyone who gets into such a dark place that death seems to be the only way out. Nothing really to say other than to send out thoughts to his family, friends and fans.