Switzerland’s one and only Death Blues Funeral String Trash Orchestra, the Dead Brothers
Voodoo Rhythm Records has just released the Dead Brothers’ fifth studio album, “5th Sin-Phonie.” With a combination of gypsy folk, death blues, gothic country, and dark roots, this Geneva-based outfit of remarkably talented musicians and songwriters has been creating and playing intricate, organic and sinful musical arrangements that they have appropriately and collectively termed “blackgrass,” the dark side of bluegrass, since 1998.
Many of the songs on “5th Sin-Phonie” were actually recorded in a barn in the Swiss mountains, which undoubtedly added to the thick atmospheric feel of the album, as well as the rustic quality and overall darkness of it. All of the songs are Dead Brothers originals, save for “Teenage Kicks,” which is a rock’n’roll anthem by the Irish punk band The Undertones, and “Bella Lugosi’s Dead,” originally by the 80’s new wave/rock band Bauhaus. Both cover songs, however, have been Dead Brother-ized, so to speak, and are first of all acoustic versions, and secondly a good bit more complex.
“Death Blues,” “The Power a Secret Holds,” and “The Story, It’s Always the Same” are three songs that really stand out on the album, though they are all thirteen tracks worthwhile listens, to be sure. Many adjectives escape me when attempting to describe the Dead Brothers’ sound in detail, save perhaps, say, melancholy, intense, dark, eerie, beautiful, savage, poetic, and…
And what else can I say, really? These are songs by the dead for the living.
Now, if I were asked to make comparisons between the Dead Brothers and other such bands and singer/songwriters, I would have to say they possess similarities to such artists as Those Poor Bastards, Black Jake & The Carnies, Bad Luck City, Warren Jackson Hearne & The Merrie Murdre of Gloomadeers, Pete & The Tar Gang, Sad Bastard Book Club, and so on. There is something else in the Dead Brothers’ sound, though…something that sets them apart from those to which I have just compared them. With as much as twenty ex-members and an extensive new lineup, each component of the Dead Brothers whole comes together to form a musical giant whose sound is equal to that of a force of nature, perhaps like a shipwreck sinking slowly into the icy salt water of a turbulent sea, the aftermath of a twister that leveled a barn to rubble and splintered boards in the rural Midwest, or the heavy snowfalls upstate that bend the pines like so many wooden contortionists in the night. Like a funeral procession winding through the cemetery pathways to the deceased’s final resting place, or a gnarled and leafless tree in the middle of an otherwise barren field, The Dead Brothers’ songs can be somber and haunting. But they can also be as mad as a medicine show revival act together with a freak show in the strange underground of a foreign city together with houses engulfed in flames somewhere in the desolate wastelands of the world together with sterile rooms full of anatomy course cadavers being thoroughly dissected together with…
And it goes on and on.
Over the years, the Dead Brothers’ have released four albums, all on Voodoo Rhythm, it seems—“Dead Music for Dead People” (2000), “Day of the Dead (2002), “Flammend’ Herz” (2004), “Wunderkammer” (2006), and now “5th Sin-Phonie” (2010). Also over the years, they have toured, sharing the stage with such acts as gospel blues trash one-man band Reverend Beat-Man, slide guitar one-man Bob Log III, and blues master T Model Ford. And in the next week or so, they will be off on a spring tour of Europe, starting in their homeland of Switzerland, and then moving on through Holland, Germany, Austria, and Belgium.
According to the band’s 2008 online bio, Alain Croubalian first invented the Dead Brothers in his head after studying death, or more precisely ars moriendi, at the University of Geneva with Professor Jean Ziegler. Dead Alain Croubalian seems to be one of the only constants in the Dead Brothers’ lineup, as it is invariably changing and shifting throughout the years, going from different percussionists to a primitive banjo and accordion duo, from tuba players to several other horn arrangements, from three old acoustic guitar-playing Armenians sitting in chairs to a summer piano cabaret with slide guitar and fiddle, and so on…and on and on and on. Clearly this bizarre group of music-makers has seen many changes, just as Dead Brothers fans have no doubt noticed and thrilled at the many different incarnations of the band. Like it says at the end of their bio, You never know how they’re about to pop up next.
So, if you haven’t already, give the Death Brothers, the one and only Death Blues Funeral String Trash Orchestra, a try. You will be glad you did.
I know “5th Sin-Phonie” will be in my car stereo for some time to come.