John Murry - A Short History of Decay

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2016-07-14

John Murry first came to my attention in 2006 with World Without End, an album of bloody murder ballads with Bob Frank. It was produced, recorded and mixed by Tim Mooney of American Music Club. Mooney was also behind Murry’s critically acclaimed 2012 album, The Graceless Age. However, Murry was unable to capitalize on those accolades for a variety of reasons, both personal and financial. Sadly, Murry lost his friend and collaborator when Mooney died soon after Age was released. After some years of turmoil, Murry has now resurfaced with a raw, bare bones masterpiece. Cowboy Junkies', Michael Timmons has stepped into the producer’s chair and the results are spare and raw, yet compellingly atmospheric.

Armed with a gruff, droll baritone, Murry is aided and abetted by a knack for infectious melodies. The main theme here is redemption through the purging fires of self-examination and self-incrimination. This is the sound of Guilt and Hope hot-wiring a half-rusted jalopy and burning rubber on the open road. “I’m the wrong man to ride shotgun on your murder mile,” Murry warns on ‘Wrong Man’. Based on the utter conviction in his voice, he means it, but at every hair-raising turn, things manage to avoid a head on collision. One reason for that is Murry’s dead pan sense of humor. Beneath the surface, this is a deeply funny album. ‘One Day (You’ll Die)’ features a tongue and cheek reggae beat and some cheeky “do do’s” courtesy of the Pogues’ Cait O’Riordan. You can even hear O'Riordan crack up at the end of ‘Countess Lola Blues’. The likes of addiction and mental illness are no joke, but sometimes you must laugh through the pain or lose it all. So, despite the album title, objects in the rearview mirror are not quite as bleak as they appear.

Despite all the gallows humor, sentiments like ‘All I do is fix whatever I broke the day before’, hit home. Songs like ‘Under A Darker Moon’ undeniably come from a dark place. But they never bludgeon you with that darkness and Murry isn’t putting it on for show. It’s simply a current that runs through this material and he’s well aware of the undertow.  “Life is a gift I don’t recall taking,” he muses on the vulnerable, ‘Come Five and Twenty’, but “I’ll wear it till’ it fades”.

A Short History of Decay concludes with a fantastic cover of Afghan Wigs’ ‘What Jail Is Like’ but it only serves to highlight how great Murry’s originals are. And while these songs have a raw edge, they also have gentleness to spare.  “It’s all for sale,” Murry cynically quips on ‘Miss Magdalene’. And every busker worth their six strings knows this. If these troubled times call for a transplant, here’s a big fat, human heart for sale.

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