Five sinister murder ballads are the source of inspiration for this collection of graphic stories, penned by Dutch illustrator, Erik Kriek. In The Pines, itself the title to a song by The Louvin Brothers, is a collection of well-researched and explored deathly tales, that drag us to the source of many Americana roots songs, providing more of an English offering, as that’s where the roots of the murder ballad lies. Kriek’s style is dark, yet illustrious, spine tingling and intriguing, and it’s easy to find yourself reading this in one sitting, alluring with it’s tales of tragedy, death and illicit affairs.
The first of the five ballads is Pretty Polly and the Ship’s Carpenter, which is set on the high seas, on a vessel, as the title may suggest. Storms are ominously close, becoming more fierce, and the root cause of is questionable. Inspired by a track performed by many ranging from The Byrds to Judy Collins, Kriek has made Willie a curse bearer on the ship that he sails. The Long Black Veil is a beautifully woven tale with narration and flashbacks, that begins with a noose around a neck, capturing your interest from that blinding image. Most famously sang by The Band, this story explores sacrifice for the honour of a lover, taking the sentence I order to sustain her integrity. Earnest yet bleak.
Taneytown, invented by Steve Earle, is a song about the fight for survival and explores this notion of Earle’s, that “rednecks are everywhere, not just in Southern United States” and Caleb Meyer is as dark and twisted as the pines of the forest themselves. Witten by Gillian Welch, a singer appreciated within that Americana roots genre, she considers the deserving just desserts, as the perverse character gets precisely what is owing to him, a wondrous turn in the tale.
However, being a fan of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and films like Bonnie and Clyde, the one that immediately appealed to me was Where The Wild Roses Grow. Following prison escapee Zachary Smalls we see him reach the home of Elisa McDay, ‘Wild Rose’ in her fathers eyes. As with the song, the rock is prominent as it propels the gun from ‘Wild Rose’ into the hands of the convict, but we are surprised to find the sheriff’s men arrive before anything dreadful goes down. Like the rest, Kriek’s tale allures us in and keeps us hooked, awaiting tragedy and circumstance.
A late night read, one for when the sun goes down, this beautifully crafted book of betrayal, violence and death is a vice we treat ourselves to with Kriek’s detailed, atmospheric handwork. Unusual in it’s concept, a gorgeous product, if you can get your hands on this hardback and are eighteen plus, I would encourage you to do so.
In The Pines was published by Canongate Books on 1st February 2018.