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John Murry – The Graceless Age

Having waited for Santa to deliver this album down a dirty chimney leads to the conclusion that it would be nice if, in the future, St. Nick made some interim visits midyear. John Murry ‘s The Graceless Age is one of the finest albums of 2012 and the wait to ‘press play’ on this granite-strength album has been excruciating.

Murry’s story is one of triumph over considerable fortitude. He has been prone to self destruction not least through a troubled past, heavy substance misuse/consumption, and many of the songs on The Graceless Age , especially the dark and haunting 10 minutes of ‘Little Coloured Balloons’, deal with his harrowing experiences and near death from an overdose. Fundamentally therefore, this is an album aimed at exorcism and a cathartic coming-to-terms with a bible-black history, which has often teetered on the abyss.

The sheer force of the music on The Graceless Age cannot help but hold your rapt attention, and there are times that almost out of respect you dare not turn off certain tracks. Yes, it is a haunting album but the songs here are musically constructed with dedicated skill over a five year period by Murry who, in the words of Chuck Prophet told this musician that he must made this album `in spite of yourself’. The result is a magnificent set of ten of the best songs this side of Murry’s home in North Mississippi sung in a brooding voice underpinned by a Southern drawl that betrays him as a distant descendent of William Faulkner .

As mentioned, ‘Little Coloured Balloons’ is possibly the most riveting song committed to vinyl last year but it has tough competition throughout this record. ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ details destruction through flames and starts as a plaintive beauty of a country song only to pause and then end with a huge rock-out. Opener, the ‘Ballad Of The Pyjama Kid’, starts with a squall of feedback and then shifts into a captivating Dylan -style ballad with resonances of ‘Knockin’ On Heavens Door’.

Many will have already heard the brilliant ‘Southern Sky’ on the September Uncut Sampler CD and it is a song that undoubtedly generated real interest in The Graceless Age . It is massively twisted and heartbroken, infused with distorted guitar and a level of visceral power that could light up a medium-size city.

On the desolate ‘No Te Da Ganas De Reir, Sènor Malverde?’, Murry constantly repeats the refrain ‘What keeps me alive is gonna kill me in the end’ a sentiment any addict would ruefully recognise and regret. There are brighter moments here such as ‘Penny Nails’, which is a scintillating duet with singer Jana Misener , but all songs are tempered by Murry’s lyrics, which dwell on often wretched experience and hard lessons learned. Thus, ‘Photograph’, which echoes American Music Club , charts ‘ the women worn down ‘ and how Murry has ‘ been unnamed since the day I was born, with a crest made of thorns, in a world of gunpowder ‘. Then, in the superb uber-powerful urban-blues of ‘California’ he reflects how ‘I searched the sky line in vain for one goddamn star ‘ before the ‘ Mission bell rings and politicians are borne on a thousand TVs ‘. You must seek this one out.

Some might argue that the level of wasted desolation that Murry has endured has led to a hugely self-indulgent downer album aimed purely at staring into the eyes of ghosts of the past and confronting them. Yet, this album is essentially a plea for reconciliation and a better life. His affecting cover of Bobby Whitlock ‘s poignant lament ‘Thorn Tree In The Garden’ shows that, at play in The Graceless Age , is a musician who we NEED to hear more music from.

At one point, in the song ‘Southern Sky’, Murry exasperatedly sings that ‘I’ve got no past, there is no future, this sickness follows me around’ . Whether an individual as volatile as Murry will ever achieve the inner peace he seeks and exercise those demons only time will tell. But anyone who loves music of the highest order should offer a very large plea to whichever spiritual force or God in whom they place trust and hope that this great artist is able to produce more music on par with The Graceless Age an album of immaculately realised songs.

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