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The Big Takeover #80 Spring 2017
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Chris Murphy – Red Mountain Blues (Teahouse)

Chris Murphy - Red Mountain Blues
28 March 2017

Born near NYC to an Irish-Italian family, L.A.-based violinist Murphy wasted no time during his early, formative years. Growing up, he took in the traditional sounds (Italian-mandolin, bluegrass, folk, Latin music, and of course, rock) of his music-rich childhood neighborhoods, idolized Jackson Browne fiddle/lap steel player David Lindley (Murphy was drawn to his “esoteric, enigmatic soloing,” he says), studied Turkish and Indian music at MA’s Bard College at Simon’s Rock and music composition at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, taught himself percussion, guitar, and mandolin, and eventually learned to play his “proper match,” the violin, at age 22. In addition to teaching guitar, mandolin, and violin, creating film music (like 2013’s Lost Town soundtrack, with Josef Peters), and making cameos on others’ albums, the 25-year veteran’s released a host of his own LPs, both solo and with groups like Irish music duo The Bracken Band, jazz/swing/blues outfit The Blind Blakes, and world music ensemble Sora Nova. (His newest album with The Bracken Band, The Tinker’s Dream, came out in January 2017.) So venerated is his violin playing, he even managed to hook heavy hitters like Tom Waits’s Steve Hodges and Larry Taylor, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Minutemen/fIREHOSE’s Mike Watt, X/The Knitters’s John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake, Shudder to Think’s Nathan Larson, and Victoria Williams to back him on his 2007 LP Luminous.

While early 2016’s Surface to Air covered an array of traditional folk styles, Red Mountain Blues (backed by his capable combo The Devil’s Box; the album also features Grammy-winning bluegrass guy Tim O’Brien on vocals/mandolin – he sings lead on the inviting “Kitchen Girl” – and Herb Pedersen on banjo) focuses more on U.S.-rooted hillbilly, bluegrass, and Western swing. Throughout Red, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin frolic so euphorically, you’d expect an impromptu line dance to break out any minute. Half of Red’s 14 songs are instrumentals, ranging from jubilant back-porch hoedowns (the title track, “High Country”) to wistful, Celtic folk-flecked waltzes (“Walt Whitman,” “Johnson County”). And while the lyrical tracks are spirited, country-and-western-inspired sing-alongs, Murphy’s perceptive, Greg Graffin-evoking storytelling on the pondering “Dirt Time,” portentous, dust storm-referencing “Black Roller,” and miner protest tale “Dig for One Day More” posits a profound folk-punk passion. (chrismurphymusic.com, teahouserecords.bandcamp.com)

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