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Chris Murphy, Musical Zen

Chris Murphy silhoutte

Combining an ecosystem of rich musical influences with a passion to create and perform, Chris Murphy is in the process of unleashing a tidal force of original, organic and entertaining music through his new label Teahouse Records. Starting early in 2016 with the accessible pop/rock album Surface to Air and continuing with the late summer release of the down-home flavored Red Mountain Blues, Murphy and company are currently a third of the way through their planned six album musical campaign. Each of these albums were were written and recorded by Murphy in the recent years and each has its own niche in a vast array of styles and all are centered around Murphy’s virtuoso violin fiddling.

This artist has been at it for about a quarter century as a performer, recording artist and musical instructor. Throughout this time span, Murphy has built an impressive portfolio of solo and collaborative works along with cameo appearances on records by established artists. Originally from New York City, he drew upon the disparate and eclectic sounds of his Irish/Italian neighborhood, from Italian-mandolin music to bluegrass and folk to Latin music to rock and roll. Later he learned Eastern and other influences as well as composition at Simon’s Rock of Bard College and the New England Conservatory of Music. Along the way, Murphy learned to play guitar, mandolin, percussion and some Eastern instruments before focusing his mastery on the violin.

Now based in Los Angeles, Murphy earns his living by performing, working on music for film, and as the “Dean of Musical Zen” at The Black Tree School, where he teaches guitar, mandolin and violin.

Roots Rock Review logoSurface to Air by Chris Murphy
Released: February 1, 2016
Produced by: Chris Murphy and Joshua Cutsinger
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sailing the World Alone
That Just Might Do the Trick
Surface to Air
The Blacksmith’s Fancy
Dead Weight
Vernon Tool & Die
Last of the Twickhbam Blackbirds
The Oscar Wilde Waltz
Elmira Prison Camp
Wish You Well
Bugulusa Blues
Nothing Good Happens
Music for a Feast
The Hunter & the Fox
Chris Murphy
Lead Vocals, Violin, Mandolin, Guitar
Joshua “Cartiar” Cutsinger
Guitar, Theramin, Percussion, Vocals
Nate Laponte
Guitar, Vocals
Tom Moose
Mandolin, Guitar
Ted Russell Kamp
Bass
Michael Jerome Moore
Drums

 

The accessible sounds of Surface to Air are spread throughout this diverse album, which primarily hits on themes of heartbreak, desperation and forgotten dreams lyrically. “Sailing the World Alone” kicks off the album with a rich, folk-rock arrangement and seems to hearken back to Murphy’s 2014 album, Boat Songs. Next comes the upbeat country/pop jam “That Just Might Do the Trick” with some philosophical lyrics such as;

a man only has but one destiny, it’s got a mind of its own, best to let it be…”

The title track “Surface to Air” is the first place where Murphy’s violin takes front and center stage. Overall this track has a nice, subtle musical arrangement featuring rounded bass notes and a mix of dry drums and percussion by Brian McLeod and Andy Reilly. “The Blacksmith’s Fancy” is the first of several instrumentals on this album with an animated fiddle over steady rhythm and beats, while “Dead Weight” is almost new wave in style and features an electric guitar lead and some solo drum beats later on by Adam Gust.

Surface To Air by Chris MurphyThe middle part of Surface to Air features the most quality music on the album. “Vernon Tool & Die” has a jazzy underlying feel with strong acoustic strumming and lead, bluesy/jazz rhythms and piano by Dave Schulz in an overall very interesting and unique track. “Last of the Twickham Blackbirds” features a bright, upbeat acoustic which sets the bedding for a violin lead-in to the pop-oriented verses, similar in vibe to The Wallflowers, with organ textures and steady rhythms throughout. The aptly titled “The Oscar Wilde Waltz” is the best overall violin showcase on this album as Murphy’s exquisite playing is backed by strummed acoustic and subtle bass notes. “Elmira Prison Camp” is a pleasant Americana/rock song with fine vocal melodies and backing harmonies, telling the story of a Confederate prisoner of war in a Northern camp. “Wish You Well” is a somber breakup song with rapid strumming, shuffling drum beats and good bass by Hal Cragin.

Surface to Air winds down with a trio of instrumentals; the excellent funk of “Bugulusa Blues”, the extended lead sections of “Music for a Feast” and the solemn mandolin-led “The Hunter &amp’ the Fox”. In between these is the slide-acoustic fused “Nothing Good Happens” with an outlaw country flavor.

Roots Rock Review logoRed Mountain Blues by Chris Murphy
Released: August 19, 2016
Produced by: Chris Murphy and Joshua Cutsinger
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Red Mountain Blues
Dirt Time
High Country
Black Roller
Kitchen Girl
Cast Iron
Dry County
Walt Whitman
Dig for One Day More
Buckwheat Pancakes
Meet Me Tonight
Johnson County
Chickasaw Fredman
The Lord Will Provide
Chris Murphy
Lead Vocals, Violin
Nate Laponte
Guitar, Vocals
Tom Moose
Mandolin, Guitar
Ted Russell Kamp
Bass
DJ Bonebrake
Drums, Percussion

 

Unlike the previous album, which touches on many sub-genres, Red Mountain Blues is more focused in on the folk/country/bluegrass strain and also acts as more of a direct showcase for Murphy and his sidekick musicians called “The Devil’s Box”. This all begins with the opening title instrumental, which features several turns of lead instruments through this moderately paced jam before Murphy’s fiddle takes center stage.


There is excellent sound quality throughout, each and every song is upbeat and entertaining

This title track is just the first of many instrumentals on Red Mountain Blues, including the pleasant and hypnotic “High Country”, the rapid string-led “Cast Iron”, the moderate and romantic piano and violin of “Walt Whitman”, the banjo and fiddle stomp of “Buckwheat Pancakes” and “The Lord Will Provide”, the acoustic outro to the album, which starts mellow and somber but picks up halfway through.

Red Mountain Blues by Chris MurphyAs for the tracks with lead vocals, there are plenty of pleasant tunes here. “Dirt Time” is slightly country and slightly Celtic folk with Murphy’s fiddle licks between the verses and some harmonized vocals by Herb Pedersen in the choruses. “Black Roller” leans more towards bluegrass with some Gospel elements lyrically, while “Kitchen Girl” is the most country-influenced thus far with a down home feel and good hook and it features mandolin player Tim O’Brien on lead vocals. “Dry County” has some staccato rudiments before launching into a banjo-fueled arrangement, while the darker and more dramatic “Dig for One Day More” is a diddy about the hardships of coal miners. “Meet Me Tonight” works as a traditional country/pop track before the album winds down with a few sparsely arranged tracks, the old west vibe of “Johnson County” and Murphy’s solo fiddle and vocals on “Chickasaw Freedom”.

Beyond  his vocation as a working musician, Murphy is also a sort of musical philosopher who dismisses reports of the music industry’s demise because music itself is timeless, stating;

“In another era I would have played square dances, and loved it. I would have been a court musician in Versailles in the 17th Century, or a violinist in a circus orchestra…”

Murphy will continue touring and recording for the foreseeable future as well as breaking his music into the European market. The third album release of 2016, called The Tinkers Dream is set to drop on November 11th.

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Chris Murphy online

Chris Murphy on Facebook
Chris Murphy website
Buy Surface to Air
Buy Red Mountain Blues

 

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Pennsylvania Blues Festival

2016 PA Blues Fest posterFormerly known as the Pocono Blues Festival, the Pennsylvania Blues Festival will celebrate its 25th annual show at Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, PA, September 16-18, 2016. This multi-stage event will take place both outdoors and indoors throughout this popular Pocono Mountain resort with related activities taking place at venues throughout the community of Lake Harmony. 2016 marks the first time that this festival will take place in September, with each previous event taking place in either late July or early August, but the change in NASCAR’s schedule at nearby Pocono International Raceway caused a logistical conflict which made it necessary to move the festival to a weekend later in the season.

Organizer Michael Cloeren takes pride in the authenticity of the music presented at this festival as well as the quality of the blues music fans who attend each year. Attendees regularly come from about 25 states and Canada and this year’s festival expects and attendance somewhere around 5,000. Aside from the live music, the festival will feature food and craft vendors and an exclusive Masterclass instructed by Sunday’s main stage headliner Ronnie Earle. Other highlights at this year’s festival include Toronzo Cannon, who was just signed by Alligator Records, folklorist Guy Davis and Kenny Neal who is making his sixth appearance at the festival. Also performing for 2016 is Zac Harmon, Anthony Geraci & the Boston Blues Allstars, The Ronnie Baker Brooks Blues Band, Slam Allen, Blackburn, The Campbell Brothers, Andy T Nick Nixon Band, Toronzo Cannon, Delmark Chicago Revue, Vanessa Collier, Harrison Kennedy, Andy T Nick Nixon Band and Beareather Reddy.

2016 PA Blues Fest lineup

Cloreren says he books differently than most promoters and likes to choose acts from three general groups – one third classic festival artists, one third of newer artists or those who have never played the festival before, and one third artists from a geographical distance, usually west of the Mississippi. In all these cases, he says he looks for artists that are the “real deal”, being rooted in the blues from the beginning of their career. The promoter of several festivals, Cloreren encourages people to come out to this one because; “even if they think they don’t like blues, its a music fest and coming may change your life”, adding “blues enthusiasts are the best people.”

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Pennsylvania Blues Festival online

Pennsylvania Blues Festival on Facebook
Pennsylvania Blues Festival website
Michael Cloeren Productions

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My Side by The Electric Rag Band

Buy My Side

My Side by The Electric Rag BandThe Electric Rag Band is a father/son duo which incorporates many roots genres – rockabilly, blues, folk, bluegrass and more into interesting fusions of catchy and energetic songs. This deliberative yet natural-sounding approach pays homage to several styles of roots music while not penning itself into any specific genre. The 2015 album My Side is the latest release of original music from this act which has been recording and performing for over two decades.

Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the group consists of guitarist and vocalist Pat Cook and his son Daniel Cook, who handles drums, percussion, backing vocals and other instrumentation. Starting with their self-titled 1996 debut album, The Electric Rag Band has been steadily releasing new material through the decades, with My Side being their sixth album.

Through the years, the group has also established a popular live act throughout the Central Plains and parts of the Midwest, often opening for national and international acts such as Johnny Winter, JD McPherson, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters.

Roots Rock Review logoMy Side by The Electric Rag Band
Released: October 2, 2015
Produced by: The Electric Rag Band
Track Listing Primary Musicians
My Side
Do This to Me
She’s Got My Car
The Over You Rag
She’s So Good Lookin’
Like I Want
Charleston Girl
Two Dollar Strings
For My Health
Smash That Radio
Slider
Three Bullets
My Revolution Blues
Pat Cook
Guitars, Banjo, Bass, Vocals
Daniel Cook
Drums, Percussion, Guitar, Vocals

 

The album comes in strong with the spastic electric guitar riffing and thumping rhythm of the title track, “My Side”. This blues/rocking song drones but to great effect as it solidifies its subtle message of rebellion along the way. Lyrically, the song encourages people to be more honest with themselves and not let outside forces control their lives. With the second song, “Do This to Me”, the album instantly pivots with a rapidly picked acoustic accompanied by a plethora of percussive elements to complement the down-home vocals in this country blues gem. “She’s Got My Car” features a fuller arrangement as Pat Cook adds bass behind his driving electric. Between the verses, this song takes off in a slight frenzy of sped up blues with a latter instance containing a nicely crafted lead guitar.

The Electric Rag Band
“The Over You Rag” features rapid, dueling guitars that make this the most interesting track on the album thus far  The delivery and timing on this track is expert throughout.

“She’s So Good Lookin'” adds yet another element, the slide acoustic blues, which is perfectly complemented by Daniel Cook’s crafted percussion. A subtle guitar lead ushers in “Like I Want” as the underlying rhythms gradually work their way in to this folk/bluegrass track melodic vocals.  The following two songs appear to have been recorded live as some of the sonic dynamics are diminished. Nevertheless, these are interesting as “Charleston Girl” features some 1940s-style swing elements and the instrumental piece, “Two Dollar Strings”, is an upbeat jam with animated drums throughout.

While not as rewarding as earlier tracks, the latter part of the album features interesting and entertaining numbers. “For My Health” is a bit of a barroom anthem on the “positive” effects of drinking, while “Smash That Radio” has a darker folk feel as Pat’s lead guitar pattern acts in contrast to Daniel’s upbeat drums while it all somehow works to great effect. “Slider” comes in like a subtle and methodical rocker with later strategically placed rhythmic rudiments. “Three Bullets” is a Western style acoustic cowboy song with Johnny Cash-like elements about a dead man who delivers a morbid posthumous ode about his own and others demise in recent days. The final storytelling track, “My Revolution Blues” has steady, consistent rhythms, a slight banjo and some vocal harmonizing during the choruses.

The Electric Rag Band continues to tour in 2016 and is hoping to expand to other regions with an expanding fan base.

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The Electric Rag Band Online

The Electric Rag Band on Twitter  The Electric Rag Band on Reverbnation  The Electric Rag Band on Facebook
The Electric Rag Band website
Buy My Side