Jun 2018 27

American Murder Song - The Donner PartyAmerican Murder Song
Album: The Donner Party
Blurb: Bloody and ghostly tales of murder in the snowbound frontiers of history make up this album of deliciously morbid and wicked fun!


Artist, musician, actor, writer extraordinaire Terrance Zdunich is seemingly in no shortage of ideas, and with his musical partner Saar Hendelman, the pair have been since 2016 presenting their own darkly enticing brand of folky macabre delights in the form of American Murder Song. Having traversed “The year without a summer” of 1816, the band fast forwards 30 years to explore the deadly journey of The Donner Party, one of history’s most bizarre tragedies in which snowbound pioneers resorted to cannibalism to survive. Naturally, Zdunich and Hendelman – in their alter-egos of Messrs. Storm and Tender – walk a fine line with the subject matter, the music on The Donner Party a mixed bag of dark folk ballads paying homage to the pair’s bloody fascination.

A crash of thunder and a flurry of trumpets and fiddles amid rhythmic drums, pianos, and harmonious vocals begin “The Black Wagon” like an upbeat cabaret of haunting atmosphere. Next up is “The Devil in Camp,” a delectable surf rock ballad of go-go and doo-wop kookiness, Hendelman’s vibrant tenor and Zdunich’s sensual croon weaving a bit of spooky goodness perfect for any Halloween party, the pair gleefully trading off wolf howls amid female vocal accompaniment and handclaps. In the same vein is the ominous waltz of “The Five Sisters,” it’s chord progressions dancing vigorously around shifts in key that one must marvel at the vocal prowess on display, while “The Cry of the Banished Horseman” evokes the ghostly, ghastly cold of the ill-fated pioneers with trickling piano arpeggios, mournful trumpets and guitars, and Hendelman’s emotive performance, complete with windswept howls and operatic accompaniment; this track especially would make Ennio Morricone proud. There is the nylon string splendor of “The Wind Weeps Eleanor,” a somber and sullen ballad befitting any lonely cowboy, while “The Last Americans” is more than slightly disconcerting as the track is played through a radio speaker, like a transmission from the great beyond, returning to a cold and haunted reality in its final piano-laden moments. In true vaudevillian fashion, “The Black Wagon” returns to provide a final exit and the promise from Messrs. Storm and Tender for more “next week.”

The fact that American Murder Song has its foundations in historical events makes it all the more disturbing, perhaps more so than some of Zdunich’s past outings like Repo! or The Devil’s Carnival. Adding to that the sense of enjoyment he and Hendelman clearly feel and are able to elicit in this music is almost sadistic, as if to seduce the listener into primal and violent indulgence that can only be satisfied through the ghoulish storytelling in each ballad. Give in, I say, for American Murder Song’s The Donner Party is deliciously morbid and wicked fun!
Track list:

  1. The Black Wagon
  2. The Devil in Camp
  3. The Wind Weeps Eleanor
  4. The Five Sisters
  5. The Cry of the Banished Horseman
  6. The Last Americans
  7. The Black Wagon Returns

American Murder Song
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
Purchase at:
Amazon MP3
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

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