Bluegrass Beyond Borders: A Murder in Mississippi in Belgium

Though their handle sounds like the title of a crime novel, in truth, A Murder in Mississippi is a six-piece band based in Ghent, Belgium that specializes in roots, bluegrass, folk, blues, and traditional Irish music. Yet they manage to merge their diverse influences into a array of sounds that boast a distinct style and a contemporary twist. The soft harmonies and catchy melodies reference the North American heartland, and the Mississippi River in particular, a natural connection to the various sounds that A Murder in Mississippi integrate into their music.

The band’s name also references the dark side of those environs, specifically a high rate of unsolved murders, and the alligators that roam the Bayou and the Mississippi Delta which are often responsible of helping murder victims to “disappear”” Not surprisingly, the alligator is a recurring symbol and a mascot of sorts that A Murder in Mississippi tends to employ.

The group — consisting of Leander Vandereecken (guitar, lead vocals), Mirthe Vandereecken (percussion, vocals), Lore Heyerick (banjo, vocals), Dieter Vanhede (keys), Alexandra Van Wesemael (violin), and Stijn Bontinck (bass) — released its self-titled debut album in 2018. Described by the band as “a confluence of the different music backgrounds of its members,” it reflects the infectious energy and enthusiasm that makes the band an audience favorite. 

Their sophomore set, 2021’s Hurricana references the severe storms named Ciara and Dennis that raged through Europe the year before, rattling the doors of Barefoot Recording Studio where the band recorded. Producer Arjan Bogaert actually roamed the windy attic in search of old objects that could produce a percussive noise that would enhance the ambiance and create a dramatic dialogue between the banjo and fiddle. 

On their website, A Murder In Mississippi say that the album “contemplates the turbulent events the band has faced the past few years, and its songs tell stories of personal loss, addiction, anxiety, and misfortune. But they also hint how to overcome these challenges through hope and connection.” The rise of COVID-19 delayed the recording of the album, but at the same time it provided the band with the determination to see it through. The result is a versatile blend of Americana, bluegrass, folk, and blues, interspersed with feel-good songs, ballads, and dark country rumination that is both affecting and engaging.

“We play a mix of Amerciana and roots music inspired by the days of old but with a fresh new touch,” Mirthe Vandereecken explained. “So I would refer to it as ‘New Roots Music.’ Our influences are from all kinds of music — folk, bluegrass, jug bands, blues, and sometimes even punk and metal. We play our own material, but here and there we play a cover song when we are playing live. We play a not-so-popular cover song, The Ghost of Stephen Foster by the Squirrel Nut Zippers.”

Vandereecken said the band recently finished a tour through Spain, Portugal, and France, an outing she describes as “mind blowing,” adding, “We’re all so grateful we can do this as a band.”

The group has also performed at a number of prominent festivals, including the recent La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France, Belgium’s Roots & Roses Festival, Muddy Roots Festival, Rijvers Festival, Camping Louisa, Hamawe Roots Festival, Kino Corso Sankt Vith, Humo’s Rock Rally, and Sint Jacobs Den Atelier, and Festival Tussenland in Luxembourg, and the Simmerdeis Festival, Festival Tussenland, and Roots in the Woods festival in the Netherlands.

In addition, they’ve been given opportunity to play with some famous names, including Pokey Lafarge, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, Nick Waterhouse, Tim O’Brien, Leyla McCalla and others.

“We have a pretty big blues and jazz scene in the city where we’re from so, we can all play very often in our beloved Ghent,” Vandereecken continued. “For us to play in our city is always a party. Fans know the words, so they can sing the songs from front to back, and they will jump up and down the whole show. As a band, that is all we could ever wish for.”

That said, she said she knows why bluegrass enjoys such international popularity. 

“I think that sometimes in music, things feel ancient, like it has been there for a long, long time,” she suggested. “It is like it’s been there for thousands of years, but when you hear it, even when you hear it for the first time, it’s like you know this kind of music. Maybe you heard it from an old record your granddad used to play, or maybe you heard it from a movie your parents used to watch, but you recognize it, and that is what is so great. Back in our town, I see kids from 16 years old drawn to that kind of music, not because they get dragged by their parents, but because they really want to hear it. I think that’s the greatest compliment for any musical genre that has been around for such a long time. It still works, and that’s why so many people from all over the world come together to play this kind of music.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.