Murder by Death In Bocca al Lupo

The cover art for Murder By Death’s fifth release, in bocca al lupo, is quite fantastic: a barren tree’s labyrinthine root system descends (in thick, brunette curls) into a darkness populated with winged gnome-thingies, giving way to telling, burning rings of fire. All the elements of this engaging mini-mural seem to spell out the goings on of the album itself, but, contrarily, the album itself is not nearly as fantastic. Or engaging.

Turla, Balliet, Armstrong and Schrot are up to their old tricks, piecing together twelve songs that seem to have spawned from Johnny Cash’s “Long Black Veil” and all of Tom Waits’ work. Turla’s vocals sound like a healthy, hokey Johnny Cash, stuck behind the piano in a Super 8 lounge—which shouldn’t be a bad thing, if it weren’t for his tendency to ape Cash and Waits’ exploration of all things underbelly: tracks like “Big Sleep” (courtroom drama) and “Dead Men & Sinners” (sea shanty) come off as counterfeit– running motifs be damned. But what can you do when there’s a fulltime cellist in the band. (Cellos in bands: Pro: novelty; Con: novelty; Pro: melancholy; Con: melancholy.)

And yet Murder By Death comes through on one song, “Brother,” an honest, heart to heart romp about a degenerate…brother. The band hits the nail’s head, with no one instrument overpowering another, bandmates finding an old chemistry, and lyrics up to the task: “you can’t keep reliving your past/screwing over the ones that you love/ in the name of some new drug.” But “Brother” is one good song out of twelve, and one twelfth isn’t so hot. The phrase “in bocca al lupo” translates as “in the mouth of the wolf,” but as far as Murder By Death’s latest effort is concerned, it should read “in the mouth of a napping puppy.”

– Jacob Tennery

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