Nathan and his wife/captive Mary have made a stop in Louisiana on their road-trip to L.A. where Nate has a job waiting for him. An A.R. gig to get him back on his feet after his own home grown record label folded. A job that's going to change everything for the couple. That is, if they can make it there. You see, Nate isn't just some music industry stooge looking for the next pop sensation; he's a blues man. So he does what a white northern blues man does when in the south... he "discovers" an act. This discovery sets him on a self styled path to redemption. Along the way he has to face a few big questions about what it means to chase a dream.
The story presented in Murder Ballads is awesomely mundane. That's not to say that it's boring, it isn't. It's a good read. In a medium dominated by huge spandex clad muscle men it's nice to read a story about regular people doing mostly regular things. The story is built on characterization rather than testosterone and explosions. Among these characters, I find Mary the most interesting. She's mostly along for the ride. She openly admits to be considering divorcing Nathan; not only does she not leave him but she seems completely unwilling to leave. Does she still love him? Does she stay because she still has hope? Or is she conditioned to stay? To endure, trapped in the relationship? It's hard to tell, that's part of why she's so interesting. And she's only one among a great cast of characters.
The surface story is interesting and entertaining, and if that's all you read... that's fine, enjoy. There seems to be some subtext if you look past the images on the page. It appears to me as though there's a comment about white appropriation of black culture within these pages. I also think I picked up on a statement about the exploitation of black musicians by the mostly white corporate structure of the music industry. I could of course be wrong, I don't want to put words in the creators' mouths. Read it for yourself, see what you think.
Alright, I guess I'd be remiss if i didn't at least mention the art and music. Yeah, music. Not only is Murder Ballads about music, it also comes with music. A download code is included with the book for the five song soundtrack. Created by Dan Auerbach and Robert Finley the soundtrack is nothing but good tunes. It features a rad cover of In The Pines, a few other really good originals, and an instrumental called Butter Sandwich that I could probably listen to on loop all day long.
As for the panels; it's a good looking book. It should be, right? It is made by pros for mass consumption. Seriously though; the art work does a lot to convey feeling throughout the book. Dark palettes and a certain level of grittiness goes a long way to establishing tone and mood.
That's it. The song is over. The house lights have gone up and it's time to go home. On your way, maybe stop at your local comic shop and take a look at Murder Ballads.