Elliott Murphy

Elliott Murphy

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Elliott Murphy is a man who's been dragging some heavy history around with him for much of his life. The New York native's 1973 debut album, Aquashow, was one of the great records of its era, a lost classic of the ‘70s that handily bridged the gap between Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, combining singer/songwriter smarts with tough, streetwise rock & roll. But Murphy's name never rose into the rock pantheon, and he eventually expatriated to France, where he has prolifically pursued his craft ever since. Over the years, that amazing debut album has been a lot to live up to, but entering his sixties, Murphy seems to be having a bit of a late-career renaissance. His 2008 album, Notes from the Underground, offered hints of the sweet spot Murphy would hit two years later with his self-titled album. It's telling that he would wait so long to release an eponymous record, and sure enough, this one seems to establish the veteran troubadour's identity anew while reaching back to the spirit of his early material. The very first track harks back to Aquashow, both in its title -- "Poise ‘n' Grace," as compared to Aquashow's "Poise ‘n' Pen" -- and its theme of disaffected suburban upbringing, which ran all through the earlier album. And while the reedy tenor of those days has become a husky baritone (one of many ways in which Murphy's trajectory has paralleled that of Bob Dylan), the literary forward motion and sheer lyrical frisson that are apparent right from the start here serve notice that the 2010 Elliott Murphy still has plenty to say and a fresh way of saying it. His musical mode has more to do with ballads and acoustic-based arrangements than post-Velvet Underground rockers these days, and to be honest, the few real uptempo tunes aren't quite as effective as the more intimate-sounding tracks, but when a 37-year veteran closes the latest of his two dozen or so studio albums with a tune ("Train Kept A-Rolling") that maintains its wildly swirling imagistic momentum for its entire six-minute length, you know there's a sustained -- and sustaining -- aesthetic sensibility unfurling itself.

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