John Murry's would be a compelling story had he never made a record – grandson of William Faulkner, an addict who lost his wife and child and home, and almost his life, before cleaning up. And then you get to the record. The Graceless Age is extraordinary, a profound and moving meditation – the kind of album that answers questions you didn't realise you were asking. Musically, it's hardly unfamiliar – weeping Americana, backed with fuzzes of electric guitar and organ that slide in and out of focus, discomfiting and discombobulating – but expertly done. Lyrically, though, it's remarkable: brutal, frank and beautiful. Through stories that are partly his own – the centrepiece, Little Colored Balloons, ends with Murry's overdose ("I took an ambulance ride – they said I should've died, right there on 16th and Mission") – Murry invests the South with a necromantic realism, where decay is the one constant, but he somehow avoids self-pity or lachrymosity. I don't expect to hear a better album this year.
Michael Hann is a freelance writer, and former music editor of the Guardian