“In another era, I would have played square dances, been a court musician, or a circus fiddler, and loved every minute of it,” says veteran LA violinist and songwriter Chris Murphy, whose spirited and haunting original music bends genres and even centuries with ease.

On his latest 5-song EP, The Red Road— the 21st release of his wildly prolific career—stalwart LA-based violinist and songsmith Chris Murphy sets aside the grand Americana arrangements and star-studded musician rosters of his previous albums for a largely solo violin-and-voice affair that mirrors the kind of deceptively simple sleight-of-hand magic he creates in his many sought-after one-man shows across the US and Europe.

At the helm is the immensely respected player-producer Ben Vaughn, a man known for his vibrant and well respected indie music career of 40 years (he is perhaps best known for his Rambler ’65 album recorded entirely in his car!) and his TV show music scores (Third Rock From the Sun and That 70’s Show), as a music producer (Alex Chilton, Los Straight Jackets) and for capturing vital, visceral performances in virtually any musical setting.

“My goal on this album was to make as much music as possible with the most basic tools,” he explains.

Murphy grew up in an Irish-Italian family near New York City, surrounded by the disparate sounds of his neighbors’ traditional music: Italian mandolin songs, pulsing Latin rhythms, and bracing Irish rounds. Eventually falling under the spell of late, great multi-instrumentalist David Lindley (Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan) Murphy went on to explore Turkish and Indian music at Bard College, and studied composition at Boston’s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music.

Having read the background, let us turn to the music!

The review:

The EP contains 5 songs and runs for just over 20 minutes.

1. “Never Learned to Drive” is a spirited introduction. If I was in any doubt, this is the man himself with a violin and a story. It is a song that takes me into an Irish pub almost anywhere in the world. The Guinness is flowing and it is one of open friendliness as the punters gather around the music stand. On with the show!

2. “Worn Thin” has an interesting vibe, almost a tribal folk feel alongside the story. It’s stepping on the shadows of ghosts. 

3. “The Red Road” returns to the uplifting violin, and as Chris notes, there are no answers, only questions for this redhead who likes the Grateful Dead. It is very much a narrative piece, and, like the rest of the EP, stripped right back to the skeleton.

4. “The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe.” This is the most whimsical of the tracks on the EP, and also my favourite. It has slight touches of The Beatles at their most basic. I liked the connections of the woman to the Poe works, the little nods to Shakespeare, and the whole song was innovative and accessible—the most commercial of the EP.

5. “Tara McKinley” completes the EP with a jig style. I could see this one going great on the tour this month. It’s a likeable piece with plenty of energy. 

Overall, this stripped down EP showcases the violin prowess of Chris Murphy and sets out the stall for the tour this month. I’ve put the tour information below and for all those who love old style violins and stories, get a ticket!

Standout track: “The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe.” 

You can stream the EP here

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by Stevie Ritson