Death & Taxes takes Vox Pop Poll award

Death & Taxes - Tiller's FollyCanadian bluegrass/Americana trio Tiller’s Folly have picked up a prestigious award in the 11th annual Independent Music Awards Vox Pop Poll. Their song, Death & Taxes, placed first in the Social Cause category, with online votes tallied from more than 60,000 music lovers worldwide.

The song, from the band’s Go The Road CD, features major contributions from bluegrass luminaries John Cowan, Josh Shilling, Scott Vestal and Randy Kohrs, on top of Tiller’s Folly members Nolan Murray, Laurence Knight, and Bruce Coughlan, who wrote the song.

Death & Taxes tells of a hard working, hardscrabble man who sees a system where the taxman gets his cut – no matter who is running the show – and the simple man is at the mercy of the powerful. Twas ever thus.

Coughlan shared a bit of insight into the song.

“Laurence, Nolan and I are all big fans of historical fiction. Death & Taxes was inspired in part by a Bernard Cornwell  book called The Gallows’ Thief. The book describes, in meticulous detail, the hanging of four condemned criminals on the public scaffold outside Newgate Prison in London in 1817, and all the politics and business surrounding the executions.

I tried to put myself in the position of a condemned man and his unique yet surreal perspective. Pretty soon I had 6 verses, and that’s enough to tax even the most interested listener. That’s when Nolan suggested asking John and Josh to represent the other condemned men.

The whole thing plays out like a Bluegrass Operetta.

Death & Taxes: []

Honestly, I never considered the song in any socially conscious terms. I wanted the song to reflect the humanity (or inhumanity) of the tale.

It doesn’t surprise me that so many people would relate to characters in the song. I think a lot of folks these days are feeling like pawns, staring around helplessly at a world changing faster than they can adapt. The timeless expression rings true; there’s only two things in life you can count on, that’s Death & Taxes.”

Brian Smith, who manages the band, tells us that the voting for the Independent Music Awards is done both by by an all-star committee and the public at large, not unlike the many popular talent shows on television. Apparently,

“Songs are submitted, and then it is up to a group to pass them through, and ultimately the fans get their vote. Death & Taxes was nominated to appear before the committee, made the final round, and lost out to RuPaul. But the fan votes went their way, which is more important to us anyway!”

The guest vocalists on this song were unstinting in their praise. John Shilling described the opportunity in glowing terms.

Letting Go - Josh Shilling“I love that the Tiller’s Folly guys play by no rules but their own. They’re not trying to fit into any mold or genre, they’re simply writing and recording great songs and I think that’s what great bands are supposed to do.

First, singing on Death and Taxes was a huge honor for me simply because I found out I’d be singing with one of my heroes, John Cowan.  Then, I heard the tune, and was blown away by the songwriting and how original the band’s sound was.

Our vocal parts were recorded by another legend named Scott Vestal. Cowan and I stood in the booth together, and traded licks on the vocal mic while singing around Bruce’s lead vocal track. The mysterious mood of the music blended with our three voices immediately, and solidified a sound that we all loved.”

John Cowan has long counted himself as a big fan of the group, and has appeared previously on a number of their band and solo projects.

“I have been ‘crowing in the wilderness’ about Tiller’s Folly for as long as I’ve been aware of them.

There are so many elements about this band that I find satisfying. First off, and maybe the most important, is the songwriting. The world is filled with mediocre songs played by talented musicians, the obverse, …..not so much.

No doubt Lawrence, Bruce, and Nolan can ‘gun sling’ with the best acoustic musicians around. But what Bruce seems to be concerned with and committed to is ‘the song.’ In the same regard that Gordon Lightfoot, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and folks like Darrell Scott are. He works at it with discipline, a sense of wonder, and trying to honor the very craft of it. I think his results speak for themselves.

I have gone on & on about Tiller’s down here in the ‘lower 48,’ and I won’t stop till they get the attention I think they’re due.”

Much of the gang from the studio sessions joined together again for a live rendition of the song on the June 22 edition of Music City Roots.


Congratulations to Tiller’s Folly and everyone involved in Death & Taxes.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.