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Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Hard Bargain is the latest full length release from violinist and songwriter Chris Murphy. For those unfamiliar with Murphy’s work, violinist doesn’t even begin to describe his abilities. Murphy is a multi-instrumentalist and talented vocalist with the uncanny talent for fully incorporating his voice as another instrument in the musical arrangement rather than somehow keeping it separate. Murphy made the unusual decision to record this new collection in front of a live audience and it creates an unique listening experience that goes far beyond what the typical studio album is capable of. Murphy is a quality force in the studio, his recordings always crackle with inspiration, but it takes on new dimensions in a live setting that makes the material seem all the larger. The production captures his bare bones musical arrangements with vibrant clarity and puts his voice front and center.

There’s a lot of diversity on the release, a common hallmark of anything Murphy does. “Caves of Killala” is cut from a distinctly traditional cloth but seamlessly transitions into the bluesy title track. The title song carries qualities that we’ll hear elsewhere on the album and that Murphy seems more comfortable pursuing as his career progresses – they are commercially minded, in some respects, without ever intending to be or pandering for listener’s attention. They follow tightly controlled traditional structures and Murphy manages to bring a great deal of his own personality and experiences to bear on these time honored forms. “Ain’t No Place” is a less successful effort in this vein that succumbs to the trap of feeling a little too stagy – even the precious little language he approximates from old spirituals is too much and feels an unwieldy and too self consciousness in the hands of a contemporary performer circa 2017. “Bugs Salcido”, however, strikes a very different note. This is a sleek, pared back piece of singer/songwriter genius with a seemingly scattershot narrative attentive listeners will be able to piece together and a haunted quality in the way it wonders about what happened to the title character. Murphy gives this vocal just the right amount of color and raises his intensity at just the right points.

“White Noise” and “Last Bridge” come from the same school that produced the title track but they are even more focused and it isn’t any stretch to imagine them electrified and rocking out. The latter song, in particular, has a fantastic chorus that practically begs for that sort of treatment. “Trust” is another track with those tendencies, but Murphy stretches out here a little musically and the song overextends itself some as a result. He is better served, on this album, when he keeps things short, and snappy. The final track “Friend” is a model of that conciseness and derives much of its dramatic power from the language and that aesthetic. The plain spoken poetry of Murphy’s songwriting cuts through the dross and gets to the heart of the matter in much the same way that the preceding nine songs do. Hard Bargain is a substantial achievement in a musical world increasingly lacking substance and we are better off for its presence.


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