Murder Most Melodious: My Favorite Down-Home Death Songs


Bluegrass musicians: "Hold my moonshine…"

Political arguments come and go, but when the ideological fights du jour have faded into something new, always in season is the question, “Is there too much glorified violence in the movies and in television?”

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Let someone else write about that, I have to catch up on The Walking Dead.

Truth is, death, murder, devious plotting and revenge aren’t just for movies or books: the music world has offered wonderfully gruesome little horror stories for centuries, from madrigal vocal music to sea shanties, and twentieth century classics like Leadbelly’s “Frankie and Albert” and several selections from the Johnny Cash songbook.

Thanks to contemporary country and bluegrass, that trend still continues. With road trip season coming up fast, here’s a list of my five favorite country and bluegrass murder plots I dare you not to sing along with:

The Dead South: In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company\**.** This overwhelmingly catchy little tune by Canadian bluegrass band The Dead South (a band so terrific I wish I could take credit for discovering them) gives little glimpses of an aftermath an illicit love that led to a crime of passion. Now what? Well, regret and suicidal intent, if I ain't wrong. The video for this song has nearly 10 million views since it was released in October. Well done, fellas!

Old Man Markley: For Better For Worse\**.** Ready to get revved? Old Man Markley’s punk and bluegrass hybrid will get you pumped for the weekend, even on Mondays. This creepy plea for love morphs into a murderous stalker’s confession…and it is one fun foot-stompin’, toe tappin’, tallboy raisin' romp.

Lyle Lovett: L.A. County. Lyle Lovett is one of the best songwriters in the business, and even his earliest work, like this little wedding surprise to a former lover, is storytelling at its best. It would be just as interesting if it were a pulp novel or episode of True Detective. I think David Lynch might want to look into directing this one as an indie feature film.

For those who are seeing a trend of violence against women here, don’t worry; the ladies have their say, too.

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers (with Edie Brickell): Pretty Little One\**.\ When I was taking guitar lessons in high school, my teacher showed me an early picture of Steve Martin at some gig and I made the mistake (for which I caught an earful after) of saying, “was that when he was just a musician?” Mr. Martin is by no means just\ a musician. He’s currently heading one of the most talented groups of bluegrass artists performing. This clever tale has a great twist ending, deftly delivered by Edie Brickell’s cameo vocals. It’s also one of the reasons I can’t stress enough teaching your daughter to safely, effectively...and accurately use firearms.

Dixie Chicks: Goodbye Earl\**.** Before the Dixie Chicks became known for badmouthing the sitting president while performing on foreign soil, they had a pretty good thing going. This song about a pair of friends’ “creative” solution to dealing with a criminally abusive husband is both cute and macabre. I’m sure it isn’t intended to be taken as advice, but I hope it had anyone prone to domestic violence watching their backs.

For legal purposes, I’m not advocating violence, wedding murders, premeditated poisonings, or any of these grim little stories set to catchy rhythms. Please sing along, but don’t try this at home.

You have to admit, though, these make for some good stories.