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Markus Rill

THE PRICE OF SIN  •  Markus Rill

If voices were highways, Markus Rill's would be gravel. It has all the rough edges of Steve Earle, the husky timbre of Tom Waits, the warbles and vulnerability of Lucinda Williams. And, like those alt-country luminaries, Rill certainly excels at songwriting.

Rill's latest, The Price of Sin, is born in the moseying folk storytelling of legends like Guy Clark, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, and, more recently, Robert Earl Keen, full of homespun tales of hoboes, desperation, and lost love that usually double as morality tales. That Rill is a German who produces his records in Nashville with some of Music City's biggest names only serves to make his records all the more intriguing. The album was, in fact, produced by the legendary George Bradfute and features multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin on every track. The result is a twangy country-folk hybrid that is both catchy and minimalist.

Rill's lyrics of the woebegone and the downtrodden are his best throughout the CD. The opening "Singin' in the Cemetery" finds Rill's narrator celebrating life instead of focusing on death and his own sadness, while "Broken Puppet" is an ominous first-person narrative of the death of a child in a car accident told from the parent's point of view. The refrain in "Broken Puppet" provides one of the most indelible images on The Price of Sin--that of a "puppet of St. Christopher lyin' broken on the street."

The true highlight of The Price of Sin, however, is "Me & Bonnie Parker." A posthumous tribute to the infamous Bonnie of Bonnie & Clyde fame written from the perspective of Parker's former husband, "Me & Bonnie Parker" is one of the more countrified tracks on Rill's record, featuring rousing banjo and fiddle by Kaplan and Bryan Owings rollicking percussion. The title track features an equally enchanting premise--this time an adulterous relationship that goes terribly wrong. Set to Bradfute's haunting cello and Owings' delicate brush drums, "The Price You Pay For Sin" showcases Rill's ability to write a morality tale without sounding sanctimonious or trite.

While the remainder of the songs on the CD may not be knockouts, neither are they throwaway tracks by any stretch. On the whole, The Price of Sin features strong lyrics, folk melodies and enough musical variety to not seem droning or complacent--a solid outing from a singer-songwriter who deserves more exposure on this side of the Atlantic.
• Tracy M. Rogers

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