Book Review: Murder Ballads
This blues-infused crime thriller suggests a number of Dangerous Things to Do Outside Shreveport Until You’re Dead
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Nov. 24, 2017
Shit, they say, happens. For instance: Sometimes you try to create a decent blues record with a notorious and reclusive producer out in the boondocks beyond Shreveport and several people end up dying violently because of it.
That is, the whole end-up-dying-violently scenario plays out after you add a little desperation, a couple of guns, and more than a touch of drug-enhanced stupidity to the mix.
Sounds like a Coen brothers movie, maybe, right? Or: Tarantino? Macon Blair?
But, no, it's a graphic novel that's near the level of films you'd expect from any of those three camps – which is to say: quality, pretty fucking high – and it's called Murder Ballads, appropriately enough, and it's by Gabe Soria, Paul Reinwand, and Chris Hunt, with the whole full-color and grisly Macbeth-with-music mayhem of it released in an excellent package a bit earlier this year by Z2 Comics.
Macbeth-with-music, we say, and package. Because the book comes with its own soundtrack – via a download card featuring music by Robert Finley and Dan Auerbach, the latter of whom you may know as the frontman of the Black Keys. And damned if that soundtrack of four original songs and one Leadbelly cover, fully incorporated with the modern noir narrative, isn't some primo shit for your ears to appreciate during the reading or anytime thereafter.
So you'll probably want to find out what happens when a couple of young Brooklynites try to move their bankrupt-record-company past and their failing-marriage present to California and get sidetracked by some bluesmen called the Fontweathers brothers in a Louisiana dive bar, track down the habitually fucked-up Frank Bonisteel to render the best engineering of sound, and then figure that, huh, perhaps a skoshe of armed robbery is the perfectly logical solution to their dire financial needs, and – yeah. You get the picture. Or, if you get this book, the pictures: vivid and moody and tightly paced, a fitting evocation, as drawn by Reinwand and Hunt, of Soria's fierce script.
Oh, wait, like that's not enough? Damn, Z2, look at you including a black-and-white bonus story – "The Ballad of Frank Bonisteel" – in which Soria's deeper character dive is limned by no less an artist than Warren Pleece. We'd be glad to read this thing even if we had to do it in the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines. So much better that we've got a clean, well-lighted place, instead; and that this solid volume of tunes and treachery will set a body back only $25.