Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy’s newest release, Hard Bargain, allows the talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter present new original material in a live setting, solo, nothing between the audience but his instrument of choice on a given song and a stomp box that provides all necessary percussive accompaniment. It is a natural successor to the more formal structure of his last studio release The Tinker’s Dream insofar as it sees his wayward muse following a distinctly bluesier direction than we heard on the aforementioned album. There are a handful of cuts on the album that are solidly commercial despite the rustic, low-fi surroundings he gives them and Murphy demonstrates a real flair for writing compelling choruses. It isn’t a quality you normally associate with this sort of nominally niche music, but Murphy is a songwriter and performer who transcends any number of boundaries. Hard Bargain is a gripping piece of musical art from the start and never loses listeners along the way.

The title track comes early. Murphy cajoles and coaxes a gusty blues from his violin with all the required desperation the lyric demands. He brings that same sense of desperation to his voice, as well, The stomp box, from the first, helps punctuate everything Murphy does musically and his instincts for using it seem well nigh unerring. “Bugs Salcido” is even darker than the title track and finds Murphy brooding at a near drone in the verses and only opening his voices up for the payoff when he wonders aloud about Bugs Salcido’s death. This is one of the more original, signature performances on the album and has a shaved to the bone energy that keeps it humming from the outset. The audience reacts enthusiastically to the tune and, undeniably, Murphy’s lyrical firepower. “White Noise” and “Last Bridge” are paired together quite well as they definitely contend for the most outright commercial sounding songs Murphy’s ever penned. Both have choruses capable of kicking you in the pants, but it’s the combination of their airtight swing and catchy hooks that gives them such impact. Murphy seems inspired by the material as well.

“Prevailing Winds” shares some similarities, but they are developed at a different pace and the structural focus is more relaxed. It’s another fine Murphy lyric, indelible in the sense that you can really only imagine him writing it, and the writing has a tight control over the balance between general and specific details. Our tendency is to hear material like this and assume it is autobiographical in nature but, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Even if the sentiments and situations on Hard Bargain are total fiction, Chris Murphy delivers them with utter credibility. “Trust” is a final emotional blast on an album that practically acts and Murphy propels himself musically through a variety of noticeably different moods without ever missing a step or making things sound incongruous. This is one of those moments when everything comes together for a performer and Chris Murphy’s Hard Bargain will ultimately merit mention with the best song collections ever released by this wildly talented artist.

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