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Murder by Death

The Other Shore – 2018 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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Murder By Death has always been the bastard cousin at the Americana family picnic. Since their founding 18 years ago, the band, led by the enigmatic and darkly humored Adam Turla, has exhibited a good many of the genre's most identifiable fingerprints: twangy country played with a vigorous rock passion or blazing rootsy rock accented with country colors, and heartfelt, confessional lyrics set to a sonic accompaniment that either slaps leather to a full gallop or curls up next to the fire for a night under the stars.

But MBD has also always featured the estimable talents of cellist Sarah Balliet, whose mournful instrument invests the band with a vibe that alternates between the tender power of a gothic chamber rock outfit and the cinematic swell of an orchestra. It's no surprise that one of MBD's early instrumentals was a song titled "We Watch a Lot of Movies."

That singularity has made MBD hard to categorize, but they've survived by appealing to every conceivable taste, touring with and winning fans among the audiences of Interpol, Lucero, Cursive, the American Analog Set and Volta Do Mar, among others. The fact that the band can share stages with such a wide array of disparate acts is solid evidence of their affecting and malleable sound.

For their eighth album, "The Other Shore," MBD continues in the vein of their recent work, specifically their previous two albums for Bloodshot - 2012's "Bitter Drink Bitter Moon" and 2015's "Big Dark Love" - with Turla's Johnny Cash/John Doe/Jon Langford baritone alternately delivering anthemic howls ("True Dark," "Stone"), smouldering mid-tempo gothic rockers (album opener "Alas," "Bloom") and darkly intoned lullabies ("Travelin' Far," "Only Time"), the lyrics informed by his literary and folklore inspirations, and Balliet's sonorous cello reinforcing the mood set by Turla and the rest of the band; keyboardist David Fountain, drummer Dagan Thogerson and new bassist Tyler Morse, making his studio debut. With the near perfect "The Other Shore," Murder By Death once again disregards genre limitations and contents itself with being a brilliant cult of one.