Elliott Murphy

Just a Story from America

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For his fourth album, Just a Story from America, Elliott Murphy moved on to his third major label, appropriately finding a berth with Columbia Records, home of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. A follower of Dylan and a contemporary of Springsteen, Murphy also attempts to invest rock & roll with poetry and then sings it in an alternately husky and whiny tenor. For Just a Story from America, he traveled to London and recorded with a band including Genesis drummer Phil Collins and, for a bluesy solo on "Rock Ballad," former Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor. "Drive All Night" sets the scene early, an uptempo rocker paced by a Farfisa organ reminiscent of Del Shannon, while the lyric reflects the same sense of youthful adventure via a fast car on a highway that Springsteen describes so often. Murphy's artistic vision is more urban and literary than Springsteen's, however, his short stories in song concern self-consciously arty characters bent on an escape as much spiritual as economic. Murphy is, as ever, up-front about his influences, putting a line from Raymond Chandler on the LP sleeve, crediting "Nick Caraway" (the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby) for background vocals, and dropping movie names including Errol Flynn and Rhett Butler. If Dylan uses names like that for comic and absurd effect, and Springsteen is serious about the lives of his hometown heroes, Murphy is deliberately creating a rock & roll equivalent for the novels and movies he loves; he's serious, too, but he also has a perspective on the scenes he describes. Thus, when he writes a rock ballad, he calls it "Rock Ballad." He never lets his audience forget that it is watching a show, which may go against the supposed authenticity and emotional directness of rock. But that's the point. In Murphy's world, the great Gatsby is a rock star, and life is a movie.

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