The Graceless Age
Rubyworks/Bucketfull of Brains
The full-length debut from John Murry, The Graceless Age, is a stunner. It’ll be one of the albums of the year for me. I’m sure of that. Sold, instantly, I knew it had something from the vital first seconds of the first track, it’s continued to reward. It’s often harrowing but sometimes beautiful as a result.
This reminds me of the impact Ash Wednesday by Elvis Perkins had. It reminds me of so many things in fact, you hear that version of gospel embedded in the Springsteen sound, so this won’t just appeal to lovers of the acoustic down’n’dirty ultra-weary songs/albums from The Boss. Though The Graceless Age is caught – and caught up – in its own devastating slow-swing, there’s a charm to these songs that suggests shared parenting across The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town and even some of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.
This reminds me of that other stunner from this year, Matthew E White’s record – and that’s also due to the subverted/retooled gospel-as-indie/country music.
This reminds me of Phosphorescent without the recent bells and whistles and there’s some hint of Evan Dando in the voice at times; that weariness. But you never, for a second, think that Murry is riding on it for the chicks, as Dando surely was.
The album’s centrepiece is Little Colored Balloons, documenting a near-fatal overdose.
There’s bleak short story-esque writing here, framed in the autumnal hymns and charms of what continues to be called (some version of) Americana because it’s partly true (still) and also because – well, what else do you call it? Everyone seems lost on that. Because there’s nothing folky here, not much that’s bluesy – though these songs’ll sure give you the blues and they sure come from someone having the blues – and if anything it’s caffeinated country, the fuzzy hue and framing sketched on over the music after far too many cups of the brew.
I keep coming back to the word devastating – as with Ash Wednesday and Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss this is an album that’s a total bummer and beguiling as a result. Often beautiful, such grit to it, so much emotion without ever feeling like a hackneyed spin on the real thing. This music is overwrought for a reason – it’s the true story that cuts the deepest.
And actually the music is gorgeous, sturdy, steady – opener, The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid, instantly puts in the listener’s mind the Pearl Jam song, Black – those do-do/do-do-do vocals clicked and dragged, copied/pasted. It’s fair to assume Pearl Jam’s Ten was a formative record for Murry in his youth and it’s an immediate hint that thinks are about to get pretty black; pretty bleak, very dark…
From there the songs are brutal and beautiful in equal measure and there are hints (California) of Chris Whitley too; I feel like, possibly, Murry might work out his career in a similar way: cult-artist styles.
But there’s so much in this record – the lyrics are why you hit repeat; the framing is correct, sometimes there’s a moment within the music that is utterly intoxicating too. But it’s those lyrics.
Oh yeah and Murry is related to the great William Faulkner, so he’s part of some grand storytelling tradition. There’s also the junkie story of losing his house and family and nearly his life. All of that will help him in getting good copy and of course I couldn’t not mention it. But I’m tagging it on the end here. Because I found all that out after first listening to the record.
And it’s my favourite record right now. I’m absolutely hooked.