The Maledictions - Shallow Grave - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Maledictions - Shallow Grave

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2019-10-04
The Maledictions - Shallow Grave
The Maledictions - Shallow Grave

If justice was a comparable and equitably divided outcome, websites like Soundblab would survive, and bands like The Maledictions would be better known. Part songwriter, part theatrical exponent, and leader amongst a very talented group of musicians, Kevin Orton relishes tales of hapless beings pre-destined to suffer terrible fates. Whether that be a propensity for self-destruction or a preordained destiny. The last album, Taking Up Serpents was a superb fusion of malevolence and redemptive light, all wrapped up in a folk-country stew, darker and bloodier than anything you’ll generally find in folk music, and closer in kin to 16 Horsepower, or Lift to Experience. 

Here, on Shallow Grave, singer Orton has found a more idiosyncratic voice, a more natural and relaxed one, distinguishing him from the obvious Nick Cave comparisons. In fact, Orton's murder ballads on this album are less demonstratively morbid and black-hearted, and more inclined to the devilishly burlesque. The tale of Jellon Grame (Here ‘Jelon Graham’) tells the tale of a young man’s vengeance against the man who murdered his mother, slashing her open, removing her unborn child (our young male protagonist) and raising the boy as his sister’s son. When the boy discovers his true heritage he exacts a bloody revenge. In Orton’s version, the mother is a witch and the boy is the Anti-Christ. Beelzebub gleefully plays the fiddle as the young Diabolus carries out his murderous reprisal. Such is Orton’s fascination with turning a sickening parable into one we can all chuckle about, and all the more entertaining [and less dogmatic] for it.

The tale of unrequited love, ‘Mourning Fair’ is adapted from an old folk yarn, The Butcher Boy, combined with a Frank Profitt version of a song called Morning Fair.  Here, Orton and his Maledictions do something very special musically. It’s reported that John Kruth, the author of a wonderful biography on Townes Van Zandt, and a friend of Orton’s, emerged from the recording booth with tears in his eyes from this recording, and true it is that the pathos in this version by The Maledictions is so tangible that you are drawn into the main character’s despair. The despair of love unanswered. 

Kruth also plays pennywhistle, banjo, flute, sitar amongst other instruments on this record and his contributions are estimable. More than estimable in fact, devastatingly beautiful at times. The flute and penny whistle are so gorgeous that even my general dislike of traditional Celtic folk was displaced, and that’s saying something. Andre Fratto’s atmospherics are worthy of special mention as well, creating a sound stage that’s cinematic in scope. Take ‘Gallows Pole’ for instance [an Orton original] with judicious sound effects and a droning metal sound not unlike Sunn 0))). The decelerated steel guitar [Suzanne Kaiser] inexorably calling out the song’s awful fate. As I say, filmic, theatrical.

The song ‘Rain it Rainith’ was originally composed by Orton for a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 2004. The track is enveloped in Erin Moon’s vocals lending the song an ethereal air, while Orton again exercises a more unfussy voice, using his impressive baritone in a more circumspect way. Orton is very clever at using his voice to direct a narrative; motifs that signpost events. Here he just sings it straight, and it’s really lovely. ‘Shake Sugaree’ ditto.   

Though much of Shallow Grave is taken from folk standards, the artifice, if I may call it that, is in the fact that The Maledictions have reinvigorated the music by applying stunning arrangements, bringing fresh insights to dark matter. 

The Maledictions Bandcamp

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