Michael Martin Murphey
Buckaroo Blue Grass
Rural Rhythm Records
3 stars (out of 5)
Sixties country-rocker and latter-day cowboy poet Michael Martin Murphey, who had a huge pop hit with 1975’s “Wildfire,” is the latest name to cross over to the bluegrass realm.
One might be tempted to credit this trend to the long boom produced by O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but in this case it seems to be the demonstrably superior quality of the best bluegrass musicians that impelled Murphy to take on this project.
He employs Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle), Charlie Cushman (banjo), Pat Flynn (guitar), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Rhonda Vincent (harmony vocals) on a set of 11 songs that fans of Murphey will find familiar.
“Lone Cowboy” kicks off the album with Murphey’s trail-worn voice at the fore, delivering rhyme-heavy lyrics (I’m writing this song as I’m riding along) that aptly characterize his writing style.
For the most part, those hired instrumental horses are on a tight rein, providing simple backup for Murphey’s vocals. There are some extended solos, however on “Fiddlin’ Man,” one of two songs here of the all-too-common guy-with-a-fiddle type (the other being “Cherokee”).
“Dancing in the Meadow” is another fiddle-based tune, this time with lyrics focusing on the connection between nature and music, a vein that Murphey also mines on “Lost River,” with nice backing vocals from Vincent, “Healing Spring,” and “Boy from the Country,” and which gives a thematic unity to the project.
“Wild Bird” is also a nature song, but one that doubles as a beautiful love song.
“Closer to the Land” is a modern-day cowboy song, one that could be a hit on country radio for a younger, NashVegas approved act.
The highlights here are the rambling “What Am I Doing Hanging Around” and the soaring “Carolina in the Pines,” both offering the best of both Murphey’s voice and his songwriting.
by Aaron Keith Harris