Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin
Chris Murphy’s longstanding career as one of America’s most respected traditional multi-instrumentalists and songwriters has long flown under the mainstream radar, for the most part, but he’s been able to build on what is amounting, at this point, to a real legacy as one of his generation’s brightest songwriting talents. His latest studio release Water Under the Bridge is another expansive fourteen song collection with a wide ranging songwriting sensibility that doesn’t aim for the lowest common folk denominator. Instead, there’s depth and range to Murphy’s sound far outstripping the efforts of similar, perhaps more staid, contemporaries. Water Under the Bridge, likewise, highlights Murphy’s increasing flair for powerful lyrical content as many of these songs make use of the same traditional language without ever imitating it too broadly. Chris Murphy’s recent run has been quite impressive indeed and Water Under the Bridge is another stellar entry in his catalog.
His literary bent shows with the opener “Moveable Feast” and the quasi-ragtime gait of the instrumental is a pleasing, unassuming way of opening things up. The jazz flavor continues with the wonderfully entitled “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston” and Murphy guides his accompanying players through a relaxed, eminently tasteful jaunt through a variety of light jazz tropes they fire up just a little with the force of their own personalities. “Table for Two”, the album’s first lyric, benefits from a wryly deadpan Murphy vocal and some restrained yet effective humor in the lyrics. Murphy definitely has great skill with language, but his greatest skill is in crafting intelligent yet accessible lyrics for his songs. We’re back into instrumental territory with “Riverboat Blues” and this extended blues work out strikes just the right chord without ever lapsing into purple clichés and the guitar work is especially exemplary. The beautifully titled “I Swear I’m Going to Learn This Time” is a gentle lament with ample style and some real pathos in the lyrics. It’s one of the album’s finest songs.
The track “Benzedrine Shuffle” doesn’t ever reach the manic highs implied by its title, thankfully, and proves one of the more stylish musical performances on Water Under the Bridge. One of the earthier groovers to come along is definitely “Tomcat Blues”, a near Tom Waits tribute with Murphy giving us his best growl and obviously relishing every second of the song’s theatricality. The title song begins with a classic count-in from the drummer and then it’s off to the races with some breezy jazz that affords each instrument in the mix a chance to shine. Water Under the Bridge ends with another powerful instrumental, “Cheer Up Mickey”, that’s just Murphy’s violin and a stomp box making a resounding final musical statement for an album that’s difficult to forget.