Listening to the songs on this disc is the musical equivalent of inviting a handful of old and dear friends over to dinner. They're a bit older and wiser since they were last seen, and the details of the stories they share have changed slightly with age, but their warmth and familiarity win listeners over instantly. More than simply an exciting greatest-hits project from one of contemporary music's most beloved and enduring artists, the collection features completely new recordings of 11 country, cowboy, and pop crossover classics that perfectly capture the romance and adventurous Western spirit of the singer/songwriter's 30-year recording career, including his best loved hits: "Wildfire," "Carolina in the Pines," and "What's Forever For." Murphey also includes a new, previously unrecorded track, the heartfelt ballad "Dancing Horses," which was written with his oldest son, Ryan Murphey, and has been part of the singer's live repertoire for several years. Murphey's liner notes begin with the on-target comparison that "songs are like children, they grow, evolve, change with time," and the concept behind the project was to document the way his best-loved tunes have gone through this process -- using many new musicians and modern recording technology which was not available when the original recordings were done. Playing Favorites opens with "Carolina in the Pines" (from 1975's Blue Sky, Night Thunder), which was a Top 30 pop hit and the follow-up to "Wildfire." Murphey adds more vocal muscle to this version, but still marvels that the original "was a hit despite having a banjo solo on the radio during the dawning of the disco era." "Adobe Walls" is a more recent song (from 1995's live recording, Sagebrush Symphony), inspired by the Hispanic culture of the southern Colorado/northern New Mexico region which is now his home. This is a more stripped down version of the song, which was originally done with an orchestra. Singer Johnny Lee's version of "Cherokee Fiddle" is better known than Murphey's original (from Flying Free Forever, 1976) because John Travolta heard Lee sing it at Gilley's and wanted it on the soundtrack to the film Urban Cowboy. This version features mandolin and is closer to Lee's Cajun fiddle arrangement than Murphey's original two-step. "Cowboy Logic" (from 1990's Cowboy Songs, Vol. 1) epitomizes Murphey's lifelong love for cowboy music. This version was developed on-stage, with Murphey doing the old man's voice in a spoken, low tone and with different guitar licks throughout. "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl" (from 1989's Land of Enchantment) features fewer backing vocals than the original and a more stripped-down arrangement. "From the Word Go" (from 1988's River of Time) closely approximates the original, while "Geronimo's Cadillac" (from his 1972 debut of the same name) is a beloved song among Native Americans; it spearheaded Murphey's involvement with the American Indian movement, and led to his becoming a member of the Sioux tribe.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran