Puerto Muerto – Songs of Muerto County

Puerto Muerto
Songs of Muerto County

Puerto Muerto claims Songs of Muerto County to be the lost soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wishes to convey a mood comparable to the old spaghetti westerns. After listening to the album, I fail to see the connection with the former, and the latter is only a part of the broad tone set by this inconsistent collection of songs. Although I must confess to never having seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I would expect the soundtrack to lean more towards a heavier rock/metal theme with screeching guitars and menacing drums. Songs of Muerto County is anything but heavy rock or metal and includes traditionally country instruments such as banjo, harmonica, and fiddle along with standard rock guitars, drums, and bass with which the duo of Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer concoct their twitchy, Appalachia punk-folk.

The first two tracks, “Muerto County” and “Ghostee,” set the tone and definitely start the disc out strong by conveying an eerie, pastoral mood using heavily reverbed acoustic guitar and banjo strumming, mystical drum patterns, and Meyer’s pleasantly moaning alto. The sparse, raw production adds appeal by giving the songs a ghostly edge. But Puerto Muerto fails to perpetuate this mood, as the third track, “Yeah,” consists of 27 seconds of Meyers and Kelley chanting “yeah” like a faraway 60s band. “Josephine” follows and is a countrified punk tune that sounds like something P.J. Harvey would sing if she were to do a country album. The unpredictability continues as “Walking” reverts back to the mood set by the first two tracks, all three purveying the same murky, backwoods mettle as a good Castanets tune.

The uneven sonic ride then takes a U-turn with “What Have I Done,” which is pure rockabilly. The last half of the disc is just as erratic, as the musicians chainsaw their way through the pleasantly creepy spaghetti western soundtracks by splicing such dubious themes as Tex-Mex rhythms and slow country balladry into the mix.

Adding to the inconsistency is the trading of lead vocal duties between the rough and sometimes slightly out-of-tune Kelley and the emotive, chameleon-like Meyer. It might just be that Meyer sings on all the good tunes and Kelley sings on the more mundane and straightforward rock tunes (albeit with a little country-style, and rockabilly twang). Or perhaps it is Meyer that makes the tunes more vibrant by the way she uses her voice to give the songs a much needed emotional lift, sounding both sincere and romantic one moment and then emitting sweet, echoey wails the next. Although Kelley does come through on “Road Song,” the highlight of Songs‘ second half, as it carries the grit and energy of a Nick Cave tune. But any momentum gained is unfortunately squelched by the misfit track that follows as Spanish-accented, light, acoustic guitar, and violin along with Meyer’s lilting voice make “Wondering” sound as if it is an outtake from a Linda Ronstadt album.

At the band’s best, Puerto Muerto pens alt-country tunes with an intriguing punk-folk spin, but unfortunately the best materializes only sporadically on an otherwise average outing.