Bloomington, Indiana’s, Murder by Death surprised fans this season with their take on the traditional Christmas album, aptly named Lonesome Holiday, via Tent Show Records.
The album is the perfect mix of old standards meets new classics. From his very first, deep wallows in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Adam Turla’s voice ripples the nostalgia of Bing Crosby, with modern twists of Eddie Vedder. The song is beautifully deconstructed with a relish topping of violin from Emma Tiemman. Listening to this song, I am suddenly waltzing with my true love at a Christmas ball, only to blink and realize I’m dancing alone on a deserted, snowy street.
Turla is then able to glide into a stunning arrangement of “Blue Christmas,” where he evokes the spirit of Elvis as if possessed. Dagan Thogerson and David Fountain’s percussion result in the tangible sounds of snowflakes falling.
“My Evergreen,” written by Squirrel Nut Zippers, is an unsuspecting treasure. The Gene Kelly-esque vocals are at first mixed as if Murder by Death are caroling to us on the street, before the vocals are brought forward when we open our front doors to the full band and offer them spiked cocoa.
“It’s Christmas Time (Part 1),” is a lovely, gloomy Conway Twitty allusion. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a certain delight that honors Darlene Love. “Let’s Get Tight” is a country-bar dream to swing to with a light-footed cowboy with a crooked smile. “Meli Kelikimaka,” is Lawrence Welk-worthy. Sarah Balliet’s cello and Fountain’s horns in “The Woodshed” warm the soul like hot whiskey going down your throat.
Murder by Death close the album out with gentle harmonies in “O Holy Night.” For a song with 1,001 covers, we finally get a unique arrangement that puts every children’s Christmas concert to shame. The band then plays us out with the campy, ’50s, musical theater arrangement of “Happy New Year.”
Murder by Death have created a holiday album that is nothing less than a shining star. The band’s ability to find a unique instrumental approach to old standards while keeping the essence of the songs we love is a feat that only Murder by Death’s talent and dirty, Americana approach could surmount.
This album should be the soundtrack to your holiday, especially during a time when so many people have been separated from their friends and family this season. Turla’s smokey, dark chocolate voice will bring you the comfort and love you deserve.
Even for a pagan like me, Murder by Death have dreamed up an album that will make me want to fuck with Jesus once a year, if it means I can keep coming back to this album for years and years to come.
Murder by Death’s Lonesome Holiday vinyl is currently sold out—but stream everywhere and keep an eye out here for new presses.