Murray McLauchlan

Best Of: Songs from the Street

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Murray McLauchlan is a Canadian songwriter who has been recording since 1971, and is a contemporary of Bruce Cockburn's without the Christian or political trappings. That's not a knock on Cockburn, it's just that the two have been labelmates since the beginning (True North), and Cockburn has gotten the lion's share of attention by far. This double-disc, 36-cut retrospective reveals the truth of the matter: Murray McLauchlan is a genius, a treasure, a writer of such uncommon wealth and literacy, bare bones life experience, and storyteller's drama, that he is in the class that belongs to Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Cisco Houston, or Tom T. Hall -- though he doesn't sound remotely like any of them, and doesn't even play country music. McLauchlan is more of an acquired taste, but he's also far more diverse. He has been able to do it all, as evidenced by this excellent collection of tracks issued between 1971-2005. McLauchlan is his own hybrid of the very best: Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, and a young and angry Billy Joel who has Loudon Wainwright's wit. Add to this the droll cool of Paul Simon and you begin to get the picture, but it's a shifting one, mercurial, because McLauchlan is his own guy, and the referents used here are merely for the purpose of illuminating a potential listener: check the song samples! The bottom line is that McLauchlan never spent a ton of money on the production of his records. They are all immediate, full of the ambience of the studio, and they communicate very directly. His reedy voice is obsessed with the tunes he writes and he writes about it all: living on the street, desolation, drunken joy, money, class, travel, rather quirky love songs, the whole bit. But the bottom line is this: he is one of those guys who is so utterly deserving of being noticed he needs his very own Devendra Banhart persona to hold his records up to the crowds of kids and say, "Hey, check this guy out; he's awesome!" It worked for Vashti Bunyan, but McLauchlan may be a little closer to the street in his language and attitude, not so hippy-dippy and more a harsh reality. But he's not dour, not even desolate when the songs are; in fact, his music, as this amazing collection suggests, is so full of the absolute marrow of life that it's impossible not to be completely taken with his work once you encounter it. There is no point going into any of the individual tracks on this collection because they're all good, and his cover version of "Carmelita" by Zevon is the best version on the shelf. Period. Anybody who appreciates great songwriters needs to dig into this man's work -- and if you like vinyl, head to your local dirty hands budget bin because most of his '70s albums can be found there on wax. If anyone is due for rediscovery it's Murray McLauchlan, and this collection, if anyone ever gets to hear it, is the evidence.

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