For 25 years, and with no sign of slowing, violinist Chris Murphy has made a living by writing, performing and recording original music. For Murphy, the path forward is charted by looking backward, to the troubadours and minstrels of ages past. Forget the exaggerated reports of the music industry’s demise. It’s only the record industry, a relative blip in the history of putting tones in sequence, that’s suffering. Music, and the opportunity to make a life’s work out of it, well, that’s not going anywhere. “In another era,” he says, “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.” For Chris Murphy, inspiration spans eras and aesthetics, but the fundamentals are the same.
Born into an Irish-Italian family near New York City, Murphy was surrounded by the disparate and eclectic sounds of his neighbours’ traditional music. “I heard and was influenced by everything – from Italian-mandolin music, to bluegrass and folk, to Latin music,” he says. Inevitably, he discovered rock ‘n’ roll, claiming still further influence from some of rock’s most adventurous and eclectic icons: Lou Reed and Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson. “My real hero,” he says, “was David Lindley. Hearing him play fiddle and lap steel with Jackson Browne – that kind of esoteric, enigmatic soloing over songs is originally what I loved.”
As he searches for new ways to communicate through music, fusing styles and techniques from across the globe – a unique fabric of world music, he calls it – Murphy finds his element on the stage, where spontaneity and improvisation reign. “To me, the music is liquid, and I’m looking to have some kind of experience.” he says. “I’ll twist and turn and hammer and mould and shape cut and paste the music to do that. We’ve never done a song the same way twice.” As ever, Murphy re-forges the past to make a new way.
Violinist and songwriter Chris, known widely and well to his fellow Los Angelenos, Seattle-ites and New York denizens alike, has been stoking his distinctive alchemy of Celtic, gypsy, jazz, roots and post-punk music over the course of some dozen original and acclaimed albums. He’s earned plaudits from roots, indie and acoustic-centric outlets alike. No Depression, the vaunted journal of roots music exclaimed:
“9 out of 10 stars! Track after track, Murphy shows why he is one of the best songwriters in popular music and unjustly flying under the mainstream radar.” (Red Mountain Blues review).
Murphy’s latest album of fresh original material, the bracing ten-song live solo set Hard Bargain, finds him back in the sweet spot between J.J. Cale and John Cale, Vassar Clements and Chris Whitley, conjuring the Irish rebellion of 1798 to a jugular jig in ‘The Caves of Killala’; chasing the spirit of Charlie Patton on the plaintive ‘Trust’; investigating the intrigue of a 19th-century murder ballad on ‘Holcombe Creek’ and shuffling in the groove between Springsteen and Chuck Berry on the jump-blues ‘Last Bridge’. Is it possible to suggest the avant-surf echoes of Tom Verlaine’s Television can coexist with a violinist’s take on White Stripes-style garage-blues? In Murphy’s world, it certainly can.
Recorded on a rainy night at a small theatre in Boise, Idaho, with just Murphy’s insistent foot stomp and tales of gun-running, insurrection and doomed miners to accompany his fiddle, you’d be forgiven for thinking that time had stopped; the violin, especially in able hands that suggest gypsy divination, has always had a preternatural way of fusing the past with the present. But with Murphy’s own postmodern approach to those antique rhythms and the storytelling instinct that drives these rustic tales, the effect may be as much to foretell the future as to celebrate the past.
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Artist’s website: www.chrismurphymusic.com
‘Cape Horn’ – official video: