Sunday, September 5, 2010

Merdur- The Cattlemen's Club

Merdur's 2008 album  "The Cattlemen's Club"  is a concept album  based on the "Dallas" television series.  Merdur is the enigmatic musical act that originated in Albuquerque. Although,  following the release of the "Merdur Side-B" album in 2004, the artist relocated to Austin,Tx.  Finding any biographical information on the person(s)  that make up Merdur proved difficult.  To quote Sir Winston Churchill "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."   This is the work of an aggressively ambitious musician, who also happens to have a fixation with an American television series.   If you know nothing about the television series "Dallas" you'll still enjoy the album. However if you're familiar with the show, this album is a special treat.  The album is evenly divided between the instrumentals (mini concertos for guitar and piano, interspersed with snippets of dialogue) and vocals (musical interpretations of the plot synopsis).  
The opening track, "A Moment to Settle into Your Seats" is an ascending and descending mixture of piano and guitar. It starts with family patriarch Jock Ewing welcoming everyone to the "14th annual Ewing Rodeo." And while this may not be  your first rodeo, you better  hold on to your cowboy hats, because it only gets better. The tempo changes from a cascading sequence of piano notes to a sinuous electric guitar solo that winds it's way up and down like a neon barber's pole. The mood is set, so pour yourself a bourbon and branch and enjoy the rest of the show.  The second track "Digger" is presented from the perspective of Jock Ewing, founder of Ewing Oil, "I was born in a town...Addison...My eyes open...see the skies...taste the sun." Jock lays out the plot for the series, Jock and Digger Barnes (Pam and Cliff's father) start out in business together, "It was said that Digger could smell oil underneath the ground." They strike it rich, Jock screws Digger out of his share and his girl. Digger falls into a downward spiral of despair and alcoholism, the Ewings and the Barnes become bitter enemies. "Drink yourself to the moon, now it's too late, she is mine, mark the day, note the time. The entire narrative is backed by finger picked acoustic guitar, a percolating bass line, a sparse piano and snare drums.  The guitar adds  a flamenco flavor, which is quite appropriate, since Jock did stomp the crap out of Digger.
David Wayne played the part of  Digger Barnes (he was later replaced by Keenan Wynn) "Another season you will"  He was brilliant as the drunken scapegrace, who blackened the family name.  In one early episode he smashes his way down the driveway at South Fork, tosses a jigsaw puzzle on the ground and proceeds to "sell" Pam to the Ewings for $100.   Later it turns out that he is not Pam's biological father, that he had murdered his wife's ex-lover and buried the body on South Fork Ranch. A murder that Jock Ewing is almost convicted of, Jock is saved only by Digger's deathbed confession. "Eighteen" lopes out of the gate in a lazy wanton fashion, before it starts to gather momentum.  "lying around on the weekend, all alone"  The music is economically spaced, with a blunted electric guitar weaving in and out of the instrumental bed. It is a tale of sex and power, and the Ewing's equal lust for both, "He rules the oil business with an iron fist" while revealing that success in business and the bedroom are the same thing for the Ewing men. "If there was a women for you, she would be buried in crude, ready for you to drill into."  Yes Sir! gushers and dry holes, are we still talking about oil wells?  "Son of Sons" introduces us to Cliff Barnes; "Born, Raised...Always ashamed of this life." Cliff, being the son of a loser and an accomplished loser himself, reflects on the path his life has taken; "Ewings they'll never know what it's like, they'll never know." However, Cliff's schemes much like a drunken Digger Barnes trying to pass a field sobriety test are an exercise in futility.
We then segue into the next song, "Two Chords to Learn" which starts with J.R. taking a verbal stab at Cliff: "I'm amazed you're not a better loser, after all the experience you've had."  It then turns into a story of  how stalking can ruin any potential relationship, "I don't want to talk to you, so I'll keep on calling." The song continues, "I don't want to see you, so I'll keep on driving by, your house at night."  The tune chugs along, propelled by acoustic guitars. The subject of this cautionary tale decides to end it all "I've gone to the wilderness, no one hears me crying." One day hunters will stumble upon his remains "I'll make a document, written, tape recorded, so they'll know just what I meant, when they find my bones." To quote J.R. "Haven't you noticed, you have to be a man to play my game."   "And A Farmhand Winds Up Dead" is a ballad, pushed along by acoustic guitar and piano, delivered in a flat, emotionless manner. It  tells the tale of Sue Ellen's meltdown after she caught J.R. in bed with another woman. "Rain,Rain,Rain...She saw what she saw, she couldn't ignore the pain." Sue Ellen storms out of the house after throwing a drink in J.R.'s face.  As she drives away, Mickey (the farmhand and Lucy's lover) tries to stop her by getting into the car.  Sue Ellen crashes, Mickey is critically injured, he lingers in a coma until Ray pulls the plug (literally) on him the following season.
On "Call me Her Name" the vocals are delivered in a clipped cadence; "Stop...Stop...Stop...Start, break my will apart...ask my first name...don't leave me hanging.  The notion that the Ewing men are always in charge is challenged.  In the hands of the wrong woman, they can be manipulated "I do what I'm told in my blindfold."  "The Third" refers to John Ross III (J.R. and Sue Ellen's son).  J.R. reminds him "My only son, you are the chosen one, you must make our name live on", anyhow,  he's the only son that he actually claims.
"Unlock the Liquor" starts as a blues shuffle before J.R. suddenly appears and begins to crush Pam under his bootheel "Everybody can see that she is cracking up" he continues "Her daddy Digger Barnes is no relation to her at all" he takes aim and delivers the kill shot "Her real daddy is a saddle tramp and a thief and her mother is a whore" at this point Bobby has had enough and nails J.R. in the kisser with a roundhouse punch.  "You seem to be the cause of all the stress there ever was"  couldn't have said it any better. J.R. then reflects;  "When this life I live is finally done, We'll take my bones and build a skeleton" and with that we close this tale of Ewing lore, their bickering and backstabbing we will suffer no more.