To say we’re excited about this one doesn’t even come close. I’ve been conscious of this record for nearly two years now and elements enter my head unbidden at the strangest times. I like that.
I first met John Murry five years ago, when the world was a different place, and he was touring with the old Memphis folkie Bob Frank (it was Frank’s take on ‘Wild Bill Jones’ that Jim Dickinson did on Dixie Fried back in 1971). Somehow he took a liking to me, and thus we’ve stayed in contact. As a close listen to The Graceless Age will indicate he’s had a strange few years in the interim. But he’s come out of it alive having taken to heart Chuck Prophet’s sage advice: “insanity’s fine. The rest won’t fly”.
Murry comes from Tupelo, Mississippi and he’s William Faulkner’s grandson or nephew or something; if you look at Faulkner’s genealogy you get the idea, you can’t miss the Murrys. He used to hang out at the juke joints of folk who’d record for Fat Possum and he knew the Dickinsons. He listened well and he played for a bit in Lucero. Seven years ago he moved to Oakland and took up with Bob Frank. They came up with an album of haunting, uncompromising murder songs, World Without End. David Fricke wrote, “With his low, hanging-judge drawl, Murry sounds as severe and modern as Leonard Cohen”.
He began recording The Graceless Age (co-produced with Tim Mooney and Kevin Cubbins) four years ago on the West Coast. He took the tapes to Memphis and back again, adding layers of sound as thick as San Francisco fog and Mississippi mud. He tells a survivor’s tale of savage misadventure recounted by an uncompromising, compelling voice surfacing from a melange of layered guitars, strings, voices, and electronics. A big sound at times, those backup singers, the panoramic guitar noise, sweet piano melodies, an orchestra of strings, bells, horns, but no matter how ethereal or expansive, at the heart of each song is something simple maybe written on an acoustic guitar or upright piano about loss and solitude and bad screwing-up, not always with a guilty conscience.
They’re songs written in words “blood red as Mississippi clay”. They may be crafted but they’re soul-wrenchingly emotive, to the point of exploring and revisiting a personal Cavalry Most of the seeming metaphors aren’t metaphors, they’re literal reporting; the fire happened, so did the ambulance rides.
And through those layers of sound, the guitars, the electronica, the twisted muzak, you’re held by Murry’s North Mississippi voice, and you hear the echoes of his Nobel laureate, near-kinsman, and the lessons he learned at Junior Kimbrough’s place, at the Zebra Ranch, in the clubs and bars of Memphis. That he took to the city by the bay, down to The Mission where he died, was resurrected, and by grace got to tell the tale.
John Murry’s The Graceless Age is released by Bucketfull Of Brains (BoB122) on July 2nd, and distributed by Proper.
The photo of John Murry was taken by Amoreena Berg