Murder by Death

In Bocca al Lupo

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There's something about the idea of the Old West -- the lawlessness, the dry, dusty landscape, perhaps -- that appeals to the sinner in everyone (it's no coincidence that Vegas is in the desert), something seen and reflected in John Ford movies or Ennio Morricone film scores. Maybe it's all the empty space, or maybe it's the heat that seems to make people forget about civility and resort to more carnal emotion to settle things. It's exactly these ideas that Murder by Death chose to explore in their outlaw country-inspired In Bocca al Lupo. The title, an Italian idiom for "good luck" (literally "in the mouth of the wolf," to which the enthusiastic response is "crepi," or "kill it"), is perhaps used broadly as a reference to the original language of The Divine Comedy, from which the album seems to be loosely based. It's not that the band reworks the story; rather, it's as if they use characters and ideas from it as inspiration in creating their own work. Which characters exactly, it's not quite clear, but each song has its own story of death or regret, with singer Adam Turla changing his voice to match the feel of each. And to make it even better, stronger, more provocative, everything's placed in a kind of spaghetti Western setting, with strong rolling drums, a sultry tango-esque cello, and Johnny Cash vocals that all sound simply fantastic together. You can practically hear Satan dancing between the strings and the castanets in "One More Notch," and the cold-blooded murder outlined in "Dynamite Mine," with its warning, "Son, cover your ears/Lord, how that blast will ring," is wonderfully chilling. But it's the later tracks, the ones that begin to express remorse for actions done, to progress toward possible salvation, that are even more affecting. "The Big Sleep," the only song that clearly alludes to The Divine Comedy -- "The bailiff leads me back to my cell/Like the riverman ferrying me to Hell" -- is both touching and ominous with its Book of Revelations trumpets, and by the time the haunting "Shiola," which toys with the idea of memory and death and on which Turla sounds unnervingly like the Man in Black, comes around, the only crime that's committed is stealing "a look." It's not complete redemption (although the album does end with the very uplifting "There's still time to start again" refrain), but there's still hope to move past transgressions and find something else, something outside of the harsh, arid climes at hand.

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