The Executioner's Last Songs, Volumes 2 and 3 (Bloodshot)

Various Artists 

The Executioner's Last Songs, Volumes 2 and 3 (Bloodshot)

It's the same with men, horses and dogs/Nothing wants to die. So croons Kurt Wagner in his cover of Tom Waits' "The Fall of Troy" on the two-disc compilation The Executioner's Last Songs, a collection about death and dying, killing and being killed. An uplifting listen, to be sure. Put together by Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the album is intended to support death-penalty-opposition groups. It comes as a relief to see art that's political in deed rather than word in a time when those artists who don't automatically scoff at politics often gracelessly infuse their art with obvious messages. But Last Songs doesn't make you suffer through a song-after-song call for criminal-justice reform. Instead, there are 27 ponderous songs. Highlights include Langford's "Delilah" and our own Rex Hobart's "Forever to Burn." Most of the songs are covers, ranging from Dianne Izzo's chilling rendition of "Strange Fruit" to Tim Rutill and Sally Timms' "Gallows Pole" (a version refreshingly devoid of the manic testosterone levels present in Led Zeppelin's original). Covering time-honored tunes is a precarious enterprise, so a misstep is not surprising. That would be the decision by Timms and Edith Frost to turn the slow and somber lament "Long Black Veil" into an upbeat song with cute harmonies. The song is best left to Johnny Cash, may the Man in Black rest in peace. But otherwise, this is a solid set that any mortal wanting to fear, laugh at and embrace death -- all in just a little over an hour -- should enjoy.

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