About love and murder
Ben Sures is used to being the “peculiar one” in any musical gathering — that is, until he joined the Death Ballads Love Tellers tour with Bubba Uno and David P. Smith.
Sures now figures that Uno, who writes tunes about zombies, robots, serial killers and satanic rabbits, is definitely quirkier.
As for Smith, he’s such a Vancouver Island “icon” that a couple of his Ladysmith, B.C., fans built a structure in their backyard just so they could host David P. Smith parties and invite their friends — “who know all the words to every song,” said Sures.
The Edmonton-based Sures, who likens his own idiosyncratic music to that of Tom Waits or Lyle Lovett, said “on this tour, I feel I’m the middle-of-the-road one.”
Although sounding ambivalent about his “normal” status, Sures is looking forward to touring with his counterparts, Uno and Smith, who will stop at The Hideout, south of Red Deer, on Valentines’s Day to sing about love and murder.
Sometimes both topics will be covered by the same song.
Sures, whose album Going to Bolivia received the most CKUA radio play of any Alberta artist in 2011, is coming up with all-new tunes for this tour, as are Uno and Smith.
The three musicians, who plan to jointly record the new songs at the end of the tour, are tasked with carrying on the troubadour tradition of singing murder ballads — a custom that started with travelling musicians spreading word of real-life dirty deeds before literacy and newspapers became commonplace.
Yes, some of the new ballads are bound to involve zombies or vampires, given Uno’s singular leanings.
But others will evolve from real-life news stories — for instance, Sures is writing a yet untitled tune based on the Robert Latimer case.
The Saskatchewan farmer was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his daughter, who had cerebral palsy. And the court case sparked a national controversy euthanasia and the rights of people with disabilities.
Sures revealed “the trick to good storytelling, like good journalism, is not taking a side. You just present the story: You tell about how he did it, why he did it, but you never say whether it’s right or wrong. . . . The song just says, ‘It’s done,’ and I leave it to the listener to decide.”
Another of Sures’ darker ballads seems historical but packs a modern punch. “It’s about a guy who seduces a young woman. They get married . . . and the guy turns out to be bad.”
A lot of songwriters would stop with wife killing her no-good husband, but Sures wrote a final verse in which the woman in the song rethinks her past. “She wishes she would have divorced him and taken him for all he had, instead of killing him, because now he haunts her dreams.”
Since it’s February, the musicians are also primed to sing about love without the complication of murder — but don’t expect any Celine Dion-like emotional, romantic epics, cautioned Sures, who won a 2005 award in the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Competition, for his song Any Precious Girl.
“You won’t be taken away on any fantasy . . . there’s not a lot of bulls--t in any of us.
“I might sing about the kind of love where you share a cup of coffee and it can be meaningful. . . . Real love can be seen in small places and things,” added the 45-year-old, who’s in a common-law relationship.
Sures, the guitarist in the group, predicts there won’t be a dull moment in the songwriter’s circle-type show. The lanky Smith will accompany on the accordion and bearded “bushman” Uno (really named Troy Cook) on the ukelele.
“The three of us are really an interesting mix. We’re the opposite of esoteric — we give listeners a story line they can follow. . . .
“And if you don’t like one of us, you will definitely like one of the others,” added Sures.
There’s no cover charge for the show on Thursday. For more information, call The Hideout in Gasoline Alley at 403-348-5319.