Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin
A self-proclaimed purveyor of folk, blues and “gypsy jazz”, Los Angeles’ multi-instrumental troubadour Chris Murphy debuts his flagship album with The Blind Blake Blues Band, Water Under the Bridge and,boy, is it a doozy! This 14 song collection presents a world worn, well-travelled sound that dates back to the early 1900s and goes through a musical criss-cross spanning several different major musical decades and landmark genres.
It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint Murphy and his crew’s exact sound but trace elements of the above-listed genres found on Chris’ website are as accurate starting points as any. You could also include r & b, southern soul, 50s rock n’ roll, finely aged bluegrass, pop songwriting hooks and even orchestral/symphonic arrangements in terms of the aural vast scope and the sheer number of instruments covered across this 5-star outing. Murphy himself plays many of them and on this record he contributes vocals, violin, electric violin, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. He might be responsible for even more instruments than that but it was as much as I could wring out of the album’s bio. What Ry Cooder does for the guitar and all of its forms (slide, bottleneck, acoustic, electric, etc.), Chris takes on terms of the violin. His playing of which is heavily featured on every single composition heard here ranges from a lead role to a true soloist to rhythm work and even atmospheric soundscapes like the ones heard on the multi-layered, double-tracked violins of album finale, “Cheer Up Mickey.”
You never hear the exact same tune twice on Water Under the Bridge. Despite the massive leans towards traditional styles heard on this release, the way in which they are adopted and pressed into the sound feels like new musical territory or at least the return to territory that has long since been unoccupied. The album goes in all guns blazing thanks to “Moveable Feast’s” dizzying swerves between nitroglycerin-charged ragtime piano and country-tinged rockabilly that pits a pumping upright bass against death-defying violin work which feels like an uncharted cove in a style that’s been timelessly honored by greats such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Horton. Murphy includes instrumentation that is denser and much more labyrinth like than all three of these leading men’s groups put together and Chris manages to pull off this feat on the opener without singing a note.
In fact Water Under the Bridge is nearly built upon instrumental cuts that barrage the listener with a bevy of tuneful styles that never go out of date or truly reach an expiration date. It’s on these wordless passages that Murphy and The Blind Blake boys shine the brightest. The beefy, bluesy bass foundations of “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston” provide steady ground for Murphy to paint unfolding tapestries of violin while a lively piano rhythm provides even more bang for the buck than the drumming (which here occupies an auxiliary stance). It’s not until the caution to the wind, freewheeling bluegrass and frenetic, fast-paced piano/electric guitar swipes of “Table for Two” that we even get a vocal melody and it sure is a good one. It’s a vibe that’ll return two tracks later on the spirited, country folk jazz of “I Swear I’m Going To Learn This Time.” Aside from these noticeable excursions much of the album’s remainder is instrumental; the slow dance Nashville dip of “Riverboat Blues,” the free-form piano pizzazz and exotic acoustic guitar elegance of “My Spanish Lover,” the whirlybird bluegrass ride of “The Lemon Rag” and the scowling, bourbon swilling saloon workout of “Dog Ear Blues” are just a few of the instrumental masterpieces on this record and there’s many more tunes that equally as good on this record that share in Murphy’s love of instrumental music with a farmland aura.
Whether allowing the vocals to steal the show or letting the music work its mesmerizing magic, Water Under the Bridge is a perfect record. I can’t think of anything else out there right now that sounds like what Murphy and his band are achieving. This is an upper echelon set of songs from an upper echelon set of players that should be in every true music fan’s collection.