Chris Murphy - The Tinker’s Dream
Chris Murphy has guested on albums from artists as diverse as The Dandy Warhols and Mike Watt of fIREHOSE fame, but his true self emerges on the plethora of solo recordings he’s offered the years. His instrument of choice, the violin, stems from a lot of influences, but Jackson Browne’s legendary fiddle player David Lindley cast the longest shadow over Murphy’s own development and his work can be heard in the way Murphy approaches playing over the top of his arrangements. His songwriting skills cannot be measured solely by lyrics alone. He is supremely skilled writer of instrumentals and even those devoted to songs with singers and words will be completely taken in by the intensely vocal quality of his playing. His latest album The Tinker’s Dream seems devoted to exploring the European influences in traditional music, but there’s plenty here that fans of Americana will readily recognize.
You can’t date this music despite the age of its influences. Songs like “Connemara Ponies”, the first track on The Tinker’s Dream, reach inside our imaginations and transport us to distant lands because Murphy is a musician who, first and foremost beyond any skill set, responds to the inspiration of the moment. That same spirit pervades the track “Union of the Seven Brothers”, but the energies are directed in a much different way. The tempo is a little slower and the added patience shown by the arrangement pays off by provoking deeper emotional responses from the listener. The title song revisits much of the energy the audience encountered in the first cut, but it’s slightly more tempered and playful at the same time. The vocal quality in his instrumentals mentioned in the introduction remains the defining quality of those songs as the album progresses and “The Tinker’s Dream” is one of the most successful recordings on this album.
Two other instrumental performances stand out from the pack. The first, “Gibraltar 1988”, moves in the same emotional universe as the earlier “Union of the Seven Brothers”, but there’s an even greater focus on lyricism here than the former song. The other instrumental highlight comes with album’s penultimate song, “The Thistlewood Bridge”, with how it brings modern approaches to melody together with Murphy’s skilled and often spontaneous sounding riffing on classic traditional themes.
The three songs on the album with vocals and words are “Wicklow”, “Cape Horn”, and “Small Wonder”. The second of this trio is the fullest musical performance – there’s a greater assortment of instruments used in that performance and each take short turns soloing without ever risking self-indulgence. Each of the three are written from a first person point of view and Murphy’s lyrics do an excellent job of capturing a convincing voice without ever leaning too heavily on genre clichés. The last of the three songs, “Small Wonder”, bears some similarities to the instrumental “The Thistlewood Bridge” in the way that it seemingly incorporates more modern approaches into a traditional context.
Chris Murphy is one of those writers and performers who can afford to be prolific. Many are creatively limited in comparison and need time for the well to fill again before they are ready to write a new collection and enter the studio. Not Murphy. This powerhouse musician and songwriter never fail to hit home runs with his recent releases and it is thrilling to hear such an artist at the peak of his powers.
9 out of 10 stars.