Vinyl&Wine 31: Murder By Death + Girard Artistry

A movie was released in 1976 titled, Murder By Death, featuring Peter Falk, Truman Capote, Peter Sellers, and of course, Eileen Brennan. It was a classic murder mystery spoof comedy. The most recent movie I can think of that is similar would be Clue with Tim Curry. Almost 25 years later a band had begun to take shape in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana who would eventually take on the same moniker as the 1976 cinematic classic, Murder By Death.

In 2000, the band Little Joe Gould was up and running featuring guitarist Adam Turla, and Sarah Balliet on Cello. Drums and bass guitar would round out the band playing a unique version of indie rock with distinct surges of whisky-laden alternative country, and rock n’ roll. Adam is a small left handed guitar player with the huge voice of a rock n' roll monster. In 2003, Little Joe Gould was touring with some major people in the indie rock world, releasing EPs, and appearing on soundtracks. They officially adapted the name Murder By Death around this same time. It may just be a coincidence that 2003 is the same year Johnny Cash died, because Adam Turla’s voice is eerily similar to the man in black. I would like to believe that Cash was left wandering purgatory long enough to find someone to give his haunting voice to. Turla was an easy find because for the next few years Murder By Death toured and wrote the album, In Boca Al Lupo, which brought their sound to a greater audience and larger shows. I saw them in support of this tour on the small club stage at Waterstreet Music Hall, in Rochester, NY to a sold out crowd. This amount of power that came off the little stage was awesome, even when the band played acoustic, the deep resonating frequencies from Turla’s voice, and cello would ripple through my body and ears. It was over before it even started in seemed to me, but was one of the most memorable concerts I can ever remember.

After a few more albums, and major label releases, Murder By Death released Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon in 2012. Of course, I purchased this on vinyl and added it to my collection of the previous releases on vinyl. I listened to this vinyl a lot when I got it. It was a very stressful time for me when I was listening to this. We just moved into a new house back in Rochester to help take care of my dying father, busy working in a field I was not happy with, but sacrifices needed to be made. With everything going on the days fell off the calendar quickly, sometimes by weeks at a time. In February of 2013, Dad died, my taste for wine was gone, and I couldn’t play Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon anymore. It felt weird, and like I was cheating myself. Only within in the last few months, this vinyl has made it back into rotation. I don’t know who the last track, Ghost Fields, on the album is about, but it hits home for me. It is a about the loss of a relationship as far as I can tell. If I open a bottle of wine, most of the time I forget what I am even drinking and I find myself staring off out of the big front bay window of my house with Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon spinning behind me. When the track ends, I come to my senses and top off my glass.  The last bottle I was pouring from was a Bordeaux-style blend from the obnoxiously good grapes of Girard, called Artistry.

Girard is constantly hailed as one of the best wineries in the Napa valley. They are small in comparison to a lot of the other Napa Valley giants and make a handful of Cabernet based wines and a few whites. The Chardonnay in grown in Sonoma, while everything else comes from vineyards in the Napa Valley. I visited Girard a few years ago with a group from work and out of all the wineries we visited in Napa, the Girard team was by far the coolest and most laid back of the bunch. Napa valley has really become a land of lawyers and investors and a lot of the old time farmer’s traditions are not very transparent to the naked eye anymore. A lot of hospitality, showing off, and money being spent on showing off. Don’t get me wrong, the wines are all fantastic, I just like getting to hang and get to know the people, not the same rehearsed stories over and over again. Girard was cool. We arrived at their tasting room in St. Helena. It was a small facility with a main typical tasting in the front and a private room in the back with a large table and a few lounge couches. We sat down and I crashed on the couch. We were asked what we wanted to try, just a full glass, or full line up of wines. I was cool with just a glass, but the team chose the full line up. When the bottle of Artistry and I took a sniff as soon as I poured, I grabbed the bottle back from my neighbor and filled my glass. The aromatics were just layered with everything under the sun, but showed lots of blackberry, savory herbs, cocoa, plums, and old leather. As weird as it sounds to a beginner wine student, I just couldn’t stop smelling the wine. It blew me away. Upon tasting it, I quickly realized it wasn’t going to disappoint following the nose. It was layered with bright fruit flavors, intense tannins, dark and deep tones, wrapped into and overall perfectly balanced wine, much like music on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.

 I can’t say enough about Girard Winery, Artistry, and band Murder By Death. The essence of both mirror each other and balance out to perfection. You can order Girard wines from their website if you can’t find it at your local retailer. You know how to find music. You won’t be disappointed. 

Vinyl&Wine 26: Common & Chateau Bouscaut

I recently came across a vinyl online that I wasn’t on the hunt for, but when I saw it, I had to have it. It is one that may be one of the most creative albums made by a master poet. It’s Be, by Common. As soon as I saw I instantly started humming the bass line to its opening track, Be. It is infectious, jazzy, and produced with lots of soul. Its full of hooking beats, keyboards, and a bunch of walking bass.  

This album sent me back almost 10 years ago when it was released in 2005. Among many other styles of music, I was into classic and poetic hip hop. The kind of rap that doesn’t use made up words to rhyme and has personal storylines and is full emotional arcs. Common has been put into the same class of artist like Tupac Shakur, Saul Williams, Black Thought, The Roots, Lyrics Born, De La Soul, Eryka Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, and Blackalicious (See V&W#5). I spent a lot of time with friends driving around blasting this album with the windows down on night time drives after work. Almost like a scene the television sitcom That 70’s Show, we would hang out in basements lounging on couches while we played this CD until we played it so much, it started skipping. After a few drinks, we would even start singing along and air-playing the drumbeats and other instruments on the album. This album was a soundtrack to a lot of fun nights shared with good people. I recently spoke with one of these friends who now has a young son. He told me that his son knows how to move through songs on his itunes and always finds Be by Common and when he does, he always stops searching and dances to the songs. I thought it was a true sign that good music will always please accepting ears regardless of age, race, or whatever else divides the masses. Common began his career in 1992 and continues to put out albums almost every two years. Today he may be more recognizable for his film and TV career, but underneath his great acting work on AMC’s hit show Hell on Wheels, his voice and lyrical prowess shines through. As this album spins with regularity on my turntable pairing wine with it can be difficult, but I tend to settle on Bordeaux.

Like Common whose deep voice, deep lyrics, and layers of soul, Bordeaux is rich in those characteristics as well. Always a blend of grapes layered in to achieve a certain dominance and derived from fundamentals passed down from generation to generation, it is a wine truly at the top of the poetic spectrum. One of my favorites that I recently dug out of my cellar was a 2003 Chateau Bouscaut from the Bordeaux region of Pessac-Leognon. At 11 years old, I must say it is drinking incredibly and is a perfect match for Common. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. 53% is Merlot and it is evident in the sultriness of this red. It adds romance and mystery. 40% is Cabernet Sauvignon, the ship carrying this wine along its storyline through maturity. 7% of the wine is Malbec which brings depth and backbone, that grit and extra muscle.

…Be, be here, be there, be that, be this
Be grateful for life, be grateful to life
Be gleeful every day…”