Chosen One: John Murry
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
This is one of the edited portions of the audio recording of William Faulkner’s nobel prize acceptance speech beneath a musical break heard during John Murry’s solo album ‘The Graceless Age’. Like Faulkner, John Murry is a myth of the South. It’s in his blood. Murry is a distant relative of Faulkner. ‘The Graceless Age’ has such soul and spirit that evokes gut wrenching honesty, like no other.
Murry’s songs have been the soundtrack to my daily life since I first heard his song ‘Southern Sky’ on a recently released compilation. ‘The Graceless Age’ pours with emotion. Loss, heartache, pain, honesty, redemption pours from each song. It’s Murry’s album about facing and reconciling his demons. Songs of redemption akin to Johnny Cash. Songwriting akin to Bob Dylan. Folk and rock grandeur kindred to American Music Club and Sparklehorse. Songs of openness and beauty paralleled with Elliott Smith. ‘The Graceless Age’ is a rich musical tapestry that is very special indeed. This is the first solo album from the Tupelo, Mississippi singer-songwriter.
The album was four years in the making, produced by the late great Tim Mooney (American Music Club). Distorted feedback of electric guitar are the first sounds you hear on ‘The Graceless Age’ opener ‘The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid’. Gorgeous gospel vocals appear sharing the melody of Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. Delicate lap steel, piano and drums guide the torchlight gospel beneath Murry’s poetry, ‘Lay me down in darkness, I pray your ghost to keep’. ‘The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid’ is not just a ballad, it’s a heartfelt prayer of hope. Welcome to ‘The Graceless Age’.
‘California’ consists of hypnotic guitar and drones of beautiful noise. Murry immigrated to Oakland, California seven years ago. The song’s lyrics are engaging, ‘I searched the sky line in vein for one goddamn star’ before Murry sings ‘I swear it ain’t you, it’s California’ on the song’s chorus. The deep bass groove and swirling guitars adds to the emotive vocals of Murry. The third track, ‘Little Colored Balloons’ is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. A lifetime’s worth of heartache and anguish is distilled in ten minutes. The song deals with Murry’s addiction, and a moment in his life where he was clinically dead after an overdose on 16th and Mission. ‘Nightmares in daylight! I’m stealing the birthright! Off 16th and Mission! I took an ambulance ride: they said I should’ve died, right there on 16th and Mission’. The honesty and rawness of emotion evident here is profound. Music is rarely so alive like on ‘Little Colored Balloons’. Murry sings over a piano and cello accompaniment with a mesmerizing gospel vocal section. The lyrics of the chorus are: ‘Saran wrap and little colored balloons. A black nickel. A needle and a spoon./I know you don’t believe in magic. Nobody does. Not anymore.’ A person’s demons and nightmares are held to the light whereupon his demons are faced and ultimately reconciled. A song of immense power. Murry shouts ‘I still miss you so much. I still miss you so goddamn much’ on the outro beneath the swirling gospel vocals. One of the many utterly transcendent moments that graces the album.
‘Photograph’ is classic American Music Club. The dark lyrics are painted on a bright and melodic canvas of sound. ‘I’ve been unnamed since the day I was born, with a crest made of thorns, in a world of gunpowder’ evokes pain and torment. ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ is a country gem. A lap steel breathes deeply beneath Murry’s softly strummed acoustic guitar. Murry’s vocals are amazing. The song evolves into a rock outro of blazing guitars in the vein of Crazy Horse.
‘Southern Sky’ is a tapestry of sound; warm fuzz of guitars, percussion, drums and piano. The rise on the song’s chorus is perhaps my favourite moment of ‘The Graceless Age’. ‘She knows my face, my broken body and I still see it in her eyes’, Murry sings with female backing vocals. ‘The crucifix, the burned out bodies, underneath the southern sky’ evokes hell on earth and yet, ‘Southern Sky’ is the prayer of a better life. In Murry’s words, ‘The Graceless Age’ is about me. It’s about me and those I love’.
‘Penny Nails’ is an indie rock gem straight out of the Sparklehorse songbook. The song features the wonderful voice of Jana Misener. ‘This isn’t love, but I need it just the same’ is sung on the chorus creating an emotional climax complete with raging electric guitar solos. The album closer is ‘Thorntree In The Garden’ which is a wonderful cover version of the Bobby Whitlock song. A piano lament that is reminiscent of Cat Power at her best. The song is full of heartache. Murry sings ‘And if I never see her face again/never hold her hand/She’s in somebody’s arms and I know I’ll understand/But I miss her’. The song reminds me of Bob Dylan’s ‘Bucketful of Rain’ from ‘Blood On The Tracks’. Similar to ‘Bucketful of Rain’, ‘Thorntree In The Garden’ brings ‘The Graceless Age’ to a beautiful, delicate close. Murry’s falsetto of ‘Someday, some way’ are the final words from ‘The Graceless Age’. We are grateful for John Murry’s return.
‘The Graceless Age’ is out now on Bucketful of Brains.