Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”)

Written by Craig Bowles, posted by blog admin

New York born Chris Murphy has been steadily carving out a legacy as one of the best musicians and songwriters working anywhere near the Americana style for the last two decades and shows no signs of slowing down. His latest release Hard Bargain ranks among the best albums of his career thanks to the dramatic circumstances of its being recorded for a live audience and the collection rating as being one of the most representative assemblages of his songwriting skill that he’s yet managed. Residing now in the Los Angeles area and working as a teacher alongside appearances on television, film, and numerous live venues, Murphy isn’t merely some talented mimic aping bygone sounds without soul or personality. He makes these time-tested forms play like vehicles meant for him alone and infuses them with the marrow of his every day life.

“Caves of Killia” opens the album with a distinctly cinematic feel. It’s an approach on violin that Murphy, throughout his career, has shown a real penchant for and it’s little wonder. He dispatches the song with immense ferocity and, even if it is primarily instrumental, his limited vocal contributions nonetheless have an inspired edge that noticeably involves the crowd. The crowd’s energy carries Murphy over into the title song and, as a result, “Hard Bargain” has the sort of head down, unblinking intensity it deserves. Murphy makes this blues-influenced tune positively simmer and the heat coming off his vocal is undeniable. “Ain’t No Place” wants to nail a spiritual feel and largely succeeds, even if it is a little two reliant on stock language to get that feel over with listeners. Murphy certainly has the soulfulness to carry something like this off, however, and his musical arrangement is up to the task as well. “Bugs Salcido”, however, is more Chris Murphy’s song alone than, arguably, anything else on Hard Bargain. The spartan guitar keeps things tense and on point while Murphy unleashes a torrent of abbreviated, but specific lyrics anchored around the fate of Mr. Salcido, but the curt quality of the individual lines doesn’t prevent attentive listeners from fleshing out Murphy’s narrative.

“Holcombe Creek” returns Murphy to much more traditionally minded Americana fare but it doesn’t prompt any sort of drop off in quality. Murphy has a way of making this particular sort of material soar with the energy of its home land and it isn’t difficult to envision the fog bound mountains at sunrise, the deep hollows, the freely flowing streams. “Last Bridge” is a much different sort of tune and, like the title track, shows a side of Murphy’s talent on this release that is definitely commercial in nature and spectacularly appealing. His talent for crafting a memorable chorus shouldn’t ever be underestimated. The closing number “Friend” is a song with immense sensitivity and makes for a great ending to the release. His playing has the sort of patience here that allows melodies to develop in a deliberate, detailed way and the listener can breathe along with the track. It isn’t a particularly cheerful number to end Hard Bargain with, but Chris Murphy has been doing things his way from the beginning and this latest turn from the renowned musician/songwriter will leave a lasting mark.