Confining yourself solely to the woods for two weeks straight seems a bit much to even the most distinctive musician. But for Murder by Death’s frontman, Adam Turla, that is exactly what he set out to do to gain inspiration and write all of the music on the band’s fifth album, Good Morning, Magpie. Traveling through hills, cooking meals outside and hiking while simultaneously writing material for a new album was never something you’d picture an established band doing, but unlike others Murder by Death do things a bit differently, even if it’s a little bit more rugged.
From the outset, Turla sounds far more convincing and richly invigorating. Songs circle the bitter lives of lost Westerners still trying to find their way back home and for all of its luster, the music never loses any sort of bite. “Piece by Piece,” is a fine example in its ability to build off Turla’s exasperating voice as he calls for help and although everything continues to grow, it’s the resulting strings and guitars that bring it all back home. And when you were away for so long, the pure sound of returning and finding your own is an entirely affecting one.
Rather than writing another concept album after the success of their previous two, Turla came back with his material and the band recorded in their hometown of Bloomington. And with the help of good friends and family, the band created what might just be their most sincere album to date. Always maintaining those signature trademarks like singing about life’s struggles, and how they all seem to revolve around drinking, are still very much prevalent (the sordid story on “White Noise” is excellently conveyed through minor chords, Sarah Balliet’s impressive strings and vivid guitar riffs) but this new material is somewhat more fitting and personal; for a band that delves in mystic storytelling, the combination is a winner all around.
The songs on Good Morning, Magpie are growling bits of Americana and rock and they’re always striving towards a greater good. Rather than being content in simply laying down an accompanying guitar and drum pattern, the band digs deep to find a winning combination of tenacious songwriting and craft – even if it means adding a string player, an extra drum pattern or another verse. And the juxtapositions all seem to splendidly come together under Turla’s stirring voice. While it all begins with a soft declaration for that delicious Kentucky bourbon, the following song, “As Long As There Is Whiskey in the World,” finds a man battling against the only thing that still makes him feel good and ultimately, losing. These aren’t just your normal tales of human struggle but alternate takes into the look of humanity. By the time the ghost of Tom Waits sweeps around on “You Don’t Miss Twice,” you’ve fully realized that this is a brilliant display of hometown, Western-classic, saloon-style magic.
Even if the woods didn’t conjure up songs about bears and catching fish, the end result is a satisfying album that is filled with terrific instrumentation. Each song finds a way to be the standout and there never seems to be a moment of staleness on Good Morning, Magpie. No, instead, you have an album that can proudly stand amongst the rest of Murder by Death’s catalog – and be an invitingly gripping one at that.