“It’s amazing/ God’s gone crazy.” With this statement, The Cujo Family open their second album ‘Stories Of Ruin’. It’s certainly not the last time a higher power is evoked over the course of this release, and one rarely spoken of in exalted tones; at worst a malicious presence, at best an indifferent one. Hailing from Wicklow, the band blend country, blues, soul, folk and trad into something they call HardFolk. There’s even the odd salty spray of a sea shanty that rears up to clash flagons with the rest.
Dog Gone Crazy leads with that opening blasphemy, organically building on guitar and violin until the drums come in with an authoritative stamp, the song’s strutting soul underneath the blues veneer. Mary Browne and Water Into Wine are contrasted musically although ploughing a similar furrow thematically – one a sweet, gentle love song gradually becoming more upbeat, the other a more jaunty affair with a bit more bite.
The band transposes the restrained with the raucous throughout. Paris, The Hate In My Heart is a Pogues-like riot, a jubilant paean to a city forsaken, and no love lost. You Choked follows, and ratchets the tempo forward in a more conventional country song. North Of The Knowing edges around trad/folk territory, a tom heavy tumble where the drums and banjo create a solid interlocking tapestry in the background while the rest duel it out.
If God has turned his back on our guide through these tales, it is not without good reason. One Bright Morning is a murder ballad and a statement of intent with a nice change of direction in the opening lyric – “One bright morning/ Gonna find that boy/ I’m gonna kill him.” The sweet melody and guitar picking are at odds with the opaque violence of the subject matter, and it’s an approach that works again. Alozaina is another blood-soaked tale, somewhat cheerfully imparted despite the narrator’s present circumstances – “I got myself a shotgun and I used it on my mistress/ Was a shame to waste the bullets on you/ She never seen it coming/ Although I seen her running/ And I chased her right into her room.” It’s a fine, memorable melody and an account delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, but for all the album’s moments of brevity there’s a murky counterpoint. Killing Song is a soldier’s lament. “Bring me home tomorrow/ Or leave me in the ground/ Play me a killing song/ One I can sing along to” entreat the vocal harmonies, giving the effect of many unified voices marching to a relentless kick drum beat, becoming more intense toward the final throes.
It is with raw, emotional outpourings that the album throws up its finest moments – the mid-tempo folk of Cage Rattler features subtle horns and saloon-style piano, with a chorus that has the power to bring us to our feet, and the narrator to his knees. Green Trees starts off describing a place of home and hope that turns into one of pain and memory. Malt whiskey is mentioned, the vocal coated in it, imparting the pained “Oh Lord I just can’t see/ Tell me why’d you take her away from me.”
The band bows out with the extended, understated instrumental coda of God In A Tree, a final canny melody encasing a final, muted vignette. The tales contained within ‘Stories Of Ruin’ detail paths of impiety that invariably lead to destruction of the body and soul through violence and substance – the stoic acceptance of these lots, though, dispels any misery. Instead, it’s an enjoyable, rambling journey with a reprehensible storyteller, and a fine second outing for The Cujo Family.