The Music of True Blood, Episode 1.12: Closing Up Shop With a Ditty Called "Ain't No Grave"

Alan Ball was known for his masterful use of music in Six Feet Under. He's lost none of his touch when it comes to his current HBO series, True Blood - which happens to be set in the Louisiana swamps, not terribly far from Houston. With Season 2 just completed, Rocks Off is now working our way backwards through the episodes we missed as HBO begins reruns.

Episode 1.12, "You'll Be the Death of Me"

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Where is the line between what is ironic and what is appropriate? Rocks Off postulates that such a border is probably in True Blood's Bon Temps, La. The first season has now passed us by, even in reruns.

"You'll be the Death of Me" is a great Johnny Winter track that we get to hear in part in this episode, but the shining star from the stellar debut season's curtain call is "Ain't No Grave" by alternative bluegrass band Crooked Still. Rocks Off is a big fan of alternative bluegrass, because it's usually just off to the right of Rasputina. There's generally more Jesus and less opium, but it's still in the same parish.

Crooked Still is the quiet, but forceful, result of four Boston friends and their love of folk music. Cellos play a big part in their music, giving a bit of spooky bass to the tunes. One of said tunes is our focus this week, "Aint No Grave."

On the surface, "Aint No Grave" is a gospel tune about rising from the dead when Archangel Gabriel goes all Louis Armstrong and God puts the chairs up on the tables and turns the lights off on planet Earth. It's driving, sweetly sung by Aoife O'Donovan, and easy to get into. In its regular context, that probably being your car stereo or iPod, the song would stand as an exceptionally well done, but otherwise ordinary bit of old-time religion in that bluegrass tradition. Our context, however, isn't ordinary.

Hope plays a spear-carrier's role in True Blood. Despair gets all the good scenes. Despite this, the finale has some truly heroic moments as Vampire Bill bravely rises from his grave and walks through the sun to rescue Sookie, who is being chased by the now-revealed serial killer who has plagued the town throughout the season. Like the souls of the faithful in the song, Bill's grave has no power over him when his one true love calls, though he's actually quite ineffective as a savior and has to be hastily buried by Sookie and shapeshifter Sam (who does little besides get hit with a shovel). Ultimately, Sookie saves herself and evil is punished.

There's your hope, but the series wasn't quite done yet. A few months pass before the final scene, and several things believed buried turn out to be restless corpses. Bill's teenage vampiric spawn Jessica is dropped off at his house after the caretakers he arranged become fed up with her, leaving him the guardian of a spiteful, angsty, repressed and ravenous fledgling vampire. But more than that, Merlotte's cook Lafayette has been missing for weeks, and just as a drunken patron stumble to their car, a garishly painted dead foot tumbles out to a chorus of screams.

Cut to Crooked Still, and the reminder that in the True Blood universe, resurrection is often a mixed blessing at best. Enjoy the song as the credits roll, but again we are left with the question of what is ironic and what is appropriate.

True Blood airs at 9 p.m. tonight on HBO.

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