Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Chris Murphy: “The Road And The Stars” (2023) CD Review

In 2022 violinist and composer Chris Murphy released Two Rivers Crossing, a true solo album, on which he provided all the vocals and played the instruments. On his new release, The Road And The Stars, Chris Murphy is joined by a number of incredibly talented musicians, including Ted Russell Kamp, Jamieson Trotter and DJ Bonebrake. This new release is actually a compilation of material from five earlier albums, all released in 2016 and 2017. A busy time for him, no question. All songs collected on this disc were written by Chris Murphy, and he plays not only violin, but mandolin, guitar, and percussion on these tracks. This album gives a sense of the range of Chris Murphy’s talent, not just in the different instruments, but the different styles of music in which he excels.

The album opens with “Sailing The World Alone,” the lead track from Surface To Air, released in 2016.  This song has a lively, full sound with a bluegrass vibe. Chris Murphy plays violin, mandolin, guitar and percussion on this track, and provides lead vocals. While he sings about sailing the world alone, he is joined by Nate LaPointe on guitar and backing vocals, Dave Schulz on piano and organ, Ted Russell Kamp on bass, Adam Gust on drums, and Joshua Cutsinger on guitar and percussion. It’s a fun number, making heading “into the great unknown” sound incredibly appealing. “Said goodbye to my friends and my enemies too/I did my best, all that I can do/Everything that you gave me, let’s call it loan/While I’m sailing, sailing the world alone.” Then “Connemara Ponies” has a delicious Irish folk sound, featuring some wonderful work on bodhran by Andy Reilly, who also plays drums and percussion. Zac Leger also contributes a lot to the wonderful sound of this track, playing bouzouki, guitar, flute and penny whistle. And of course Chris Murphy delivers some excellent work on violin. As on the first track, Chris Murphy also plays mandolin, guitar and percussion on this one. This uplifting instrumental number was originally included on The Tinker’s Dream, released in early 2017.

The disc then goes back to a bluegrass sound with “Red Mountain Blues,” the title track from a 2016 release. This is another delightful and lively instrumental number. On this one, Chris Murphy plays just violin. Joining him are Tim O’Brien on mandolin, Nate LaPointe on guitar, Dennis Caplinger on banjo, Jamieson Trotter on piano, Ted Russell Kamp on bass, and DJ Bonebrake on drums and percussion. Yes, a lot of talent, particularly in that rhythm section. You likely know DJ Bonebrake from his work in both X and Dead Rock West. He’s a versatile player, clearly able to tackle everything from punk to bluegrass. Ted Russell Kamp is another musician that I have a lot of respect for. His own solo material is excellent, and he plays with a wide variety of artists, including Shooter Jennings, Alice Wallace, Funkyjenn, Tawny Ellis, and AJ Hobbs. “Red Mountain Blues” is followed by “Last Of The Twickham Blackbirds,” another song that was originally included on Surface To Air. After a good instrumental introduction that features some lovely violin work, this song’s first line contains a Hamlet reference: “There’s a method in the madness, all the spirits of the night.” In Act II Scene ii, Polonius says, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” This track has more of a rock energy, and it features Chris Murphy delivering good stuff on violin and mandolin.

This collection returns to Red Mountain Blues for “Kitchen Girl,” which features Tim O’Brien on lead vocals, and Herb Pedersen on backing vocals. Chris Murphy plays violin, mandolin and guitar, and Dennis Caplinger delivers some really nice stuff on banjo. Ted Russell Kamp and DJ Bonebrake again make up the rhythm section. This track too has a lively sound. There are brief moments in this song that remind me of Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun.” “The world’s a wild place, full of twists and turns/Like the fire in the forest, it knows not how it burns.” That’s followed by “Small Wonder.” As it begins, it has that delightful Irish vibe. It comes from the same album as “Connemara Ponies,” but this one, unlike that song, features Chris Murphy on vocals. “Just when I was thinking the world ain’t fair/How lucky am I that I found you out there.” Marcus Blake provides harmony vocals. Robbie Gennet delivers some good work on piano. My favorite thing about this song is the way Chris Murphy’s violin soars at moments, rising above the other instruments and lifting us all up to those heights with it.

Then we get a couple of live songs, both coming from Chris Murphy’s 2017 album Hard Bargain. The first is “Caves Of Killala,” that album’s opening track, which includes someone introducing Chris Murphy before we are treated to some gorgeous, stunning work on violin to begin this piece. The piece develops from there, an exciting song that goes through a few changes before his vocals even come in. It’s nearly five minutes before his vocals come in. There are several moments when his playing draws applause and cheers from the audience. This is a solo performance, as is the other live track, “Hard Bargain,” which follows it. This one gets the audience clapping along early on. I love the line, “I’m going to break if you don’t bend.” This is another excellent, energetic performance. Clearly this guy puts on a great show. From Surface To Air comes “Music For A Feast,” an instrumental with a strong rhythm, that rhythm providing a good deal of the joy of this track. Chris Murphy, DJ Bonebrake and Walfredo Reyes Jr. are all on percussion. Chris Murphy’s work on violin is the main focus, and, as you might expect by now, he delivers wonderful work. This track also features excellent work on guitar. Chris Murphy and Nate LaPointe play guitar on this track. Oscar Cartaya plays bass on this one. It’s not a live track, but it has the energy of a live performance, and is another of the disc’s highlights.

The last of this collection’s song to come from The Tinker’s Dream is “Cape Horn.” This song is a whole lot of fun, with Zac Leger delivering some excellent work again, particularly on penny whistle. There is a wonderful joy to the playing, and all the musicians have moments when they shine. There is also a great energy and joy to Chris Murphy’s vocal delivery. This is another of my personal favorites, and it’s followed by yet another of the album’s highlights, “Vernon Tool & Die,” a track from Surface To Air with a seriously cool old-time European flavor featuring some excellent work by Dave Schulz on piano and organ. Chris Murphy’s violin work is outstanding here, and he also plays mandolin, guitar and percussion. Nate LaPointe is on guitar, Ted Russell Kamp is on bass, and Michael Jerome Moore plays drums on this one. Adding to track’s great sound is Joshua Cutsinger on theremin. And there is something quite catchy about this song, particularly at the end.

“High Country” is a sweet, pleasant instrumental number from Red Mountain Blues. Chris Murphy plays only violin on this track, and is joined by Tim O’Brien on mandolin, Nate LaPointe on guitar, Dennis Caplinger on banjo, Jamieson Trotter on piano, Ted Russell Kamp on bass, and Adam Gust on drums. There is just a really good feel to this music. If you’re looking for something to raise your spirits, here it is. This track is followed by “I Swear I’m Going To Learn This Time,” the only song chosen from Chris Murphy’s Water Under The Bridge, released in 2017. This one has a jazzy vibe. Chris Murphy is on lead vocals, violin, mandolin, guitar and percussion. Nate LaPointe and Michael Abraham are on guitar. Jamieson Trotter is on piano. Tim Emmons plays bass on this track, and Danny Frankel is on drums and percussion. There is a delightful instrumental section in the middle, where each of the musicians is given a chance to shine, and that’s my favorite part of the song. Olivia Brownlee provides backing vocals. This collection then concludes with “The Hunter & The Fox,” an exciting and dramatic instrumental track from Surface To Air. This track features a strong rhythm. Ted Russell Kamp is on bass, and Michael Jerome Moore is on drums. Halfway through, there is a shift and the pace is increased, the track becoming lighter and more fun.

CD Track List

  1. Sailing The World Alone
  2. Connemara Ponies
  3. Red Mountain Blues
  4. Last Of The Twickham Blackbirds
  5. Kitchen Girl
  6. Small Wonder
  7. Caves Of Killala
  8. Hard Bargain
  9. Music For A Feast
  10. Cape Horn
  11. Vernon Tool & Die
  12. High Country
  13. I Swear I’m Going To Learn This Time
  14. The Hunter & The Fox

The Road And The Stars was released on June 15, 2023 on Teahouse Records.

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