Chris Murphy “Sovereign”

Friendly Folk Records, 2021

LA and Dutch based eclectic folk and americana with a myriad of guests.

Chris Murphy was born near New York City to an Irish-Italian family, and it was the music he was exposed to in his neighbourhood, Italian mandolin music, Latin music and bluegrass that started him on his own musical quest. He was influenced by more contemporary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Lou Reed and Richard Thompson but he claims his biggest influence was that master of all things stringed and a living example of eclecticism, David Lindley.  Though he can play various instruments, the violin is his instrument of choice, and he has been working as a professional musician for 36 years, largely in Los Angeles. Working is also the operative word, as he has recorded over 20 albums and written more than 500 songs. Currently, he is teaching guitar, mandolin and violin, composing for film soundtracks and performing live.  His latest album, ‘Sovereign’, was recorded during lockdown and includes contributions from over 30 of his musical friends, and what friends. They include bluegrasser Tim O’Brien, Attraction and drummer extraordinaire Pete Thomas, Tom Waits’ percussionist Stephen Hodges, Waterboy Steve Wickham to name only a few. The album is his first release for Rotterdam based international independent record label Friendly Folk Records.

The thirteen tracks on ‘Sovereign’ reflect Chris Murphy’s eclecticism and includes various folk and roots music forms from around the world, and they are best viewed and heard as individual single tracks. ‘Till The World Lifts Its Head’ is the lead single from the album, and in some ways sets the manifesto for the whole album. While the track is upbeat, it reflects a dream Chris Murphy had in 2019 and has a relevance for these COVID times and includes Dutch, as well as LA-based, musical friends. The lead track, ‘Halfway Around The World’, embodies the spirit of the violin as the source for much dance music in times gone by.  Los Angeles was the birthplace of country-rock in the ‘60s and ‘Bad Situation’ is Chris Murphy’s modern-day nod to that particular genre.  Murphy then moves to a more bluegrass sounded on ‘Boxed In’ but the guitar also introduces more than a hint of twang. ‘Done With Diane’ looks back to the first half of the 20th Century when the violin was a popular jazz instrument, and here it is accompanied by clarinet and mandolin. Chris Murphy shows his violin skills off on the instrumental ‘Pear Blossom’. The blues, with more than a hint of blues-rock, is covered on ‘Three Feet Deep. Latin percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr guests on the album, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that ‘Never The Same’ mixes an old-time feel with a tango rhythm.

COVID provided Chris Murphy with the time to really produce and craft ‘Sovereign’, much more so than on his earlier records, and it also ensured his musical friends and collaborators had the time to help him in his endeavour. The final result is an album that truly reflects Chris Murphy’s eclecticism but doesn’t lose sight of the fact that much of folk music, particularly violin and fiddle music, is dance-orientated. If in doubt, just think of square dancing, Morris dancing and the work of our own Ashley Hutchings and the Albion Band and their British folk dance recordings. The eclecticism also reflects Murphy’s work on film soundtracks and as such is probably the single most representative example of his long career to date. He clearly had a lot of fun recording ‘Sovereign’ and this fun is imbued throughout the tracks. If you fancy something to raise a smile, and maybe tap your feet, while also prompting some deeper thoughts, then you could do worse than to give ‘Sovereign’ a spin, or in the modern parlance maybe a stream.


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7/10
7/10

About Martin Johnson 148 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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