Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Tim Livingston
It was the third year for “An Evening of Murder Ballads,” Caffe Lena’s fund-raising Halloween tradition, and as Lena’s manager Sarah Craig explained, in years past, the focus was squarely on the traditional folk ballads of murder, killing and revenge.
Not so this time around…
A half dozen performers took the stage over the course of the evening, presenting a surprising wide array of murder ballads. Matt Durfee offered a couple of superstar covers from the songbags of Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, while Charlie Morris honored contemporary songwriters of a decidedly more obscure pedigree (Gurf Morlix and Tom Russell).
Host and last-minute fill-in for a late cancellation, Michael Eck opted to spotlight the songs of Woody Guthrie, peppering his trio of outlaw selections throughout the evening’s proceedings. The Lucky Jukebox Brigade – pared down to a quartet… plus special guest “corpse” – sang a pair of nifty original tunes – the new “Contortionista” and their vampire doo-wop song, “Bites” – before whipping up an intriguing interpretation of Indiana indie band Murder by Death’s “Spring Break 1899.”
Teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Tom Wadsworth, former Tern Rounders vocalist Kim Kilby delivered the most potent performance of the night, a gut-wrenching rendition of Eliza Gilkyson’s harrowing “The Ballad of Yvonne Johnson.” And Ryder & Hazel with the Dust Bowl Faeries stretched the meaning of “murder ballad” the furthest, playing a haunting triptych of tunes about the death of such animal species as the Pyrenean Ibex, the Xerces Blue Butterfly and the Deer Gigantus, culled from Ryder Cooley’s latest album, Xmalia.
“AN EVENING OF MURDER BALLADS” SET LIST
Delia’s Gone (Johnny Cash)
Nebraska (Bruce Springsteen)
The Whole Nine
KIM KILBY & TOM WADSWORTH
Caleb Meyer (Gillian Welch)
The Ballad of Yvonne Johnson (Eliza Gilkyson)
Stagger Lee (Woody Guthrie)
LUCKY JUKEBOX BRIGADE
Spring Break 1899 (Murder by Death)
Pretty Boy Floyd (Woody Guthrie)
My Life’s Been Taken (Gurf Morlix)
The Sky Above, the Mud Below (Tom Russell)
South Coast (traditional)
Billy the Kid (Woody Guthrie)
RYDER & HAZEL WITH THE DUST BOWL FAERIES
Xerces Blue Butterfly