Jimmy Murphy

Southern Roots: The Legendary Starday-Rem Sessions

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Only nine of the 21 songs on this collection of 1960s recordings were previously released, showing up on obscure independent singles and albums between 1964 and 1969. The precise dates of recordings are not known, although the liner notes speculate that some could date from the early 1960s. Regardless of the exact vintage, the album offers interesting, sparse country that sounds tangled between its roots in the 1920s and 1930s and the modern post-war sound. Murphy was an excellent 12-string guitarist, and his busy picking and strumming creates the effect of hearing more than one instrumentalist. On many of the cuts it sounds as if a bass is pulsing away in the background. The liner notes don't mention any such accompaniment, however, so perhaps it's a one-man show, with the exception of a few harmony vocals by his wife Florine (who takes lead on "I Feel Jesus (My My My)"). Murphy sticks largely to sacred material on this compilation, with a few witty, more contemporary tunes, such as "Hub Cap" ("Just 'cause your head looks like a hubcap, it's no sign that you're a big wheel") and "Tears in the Eyes of a Potato." The minimal country-rockabilly feel and stark singing sound a bit like early Johnny Cash recordings, though the similarities don't go that far -- Murphy's vocals have a higher and wider range, and his repertoire has much stronger roots in Appalachian country-folk styles. The only concessions to more contemporary trends are the 1965 single "Half a Loaf of Bread," which has some rockabilly guitar, and its B-side "Take This Message to Mother," a bathetic son-mother battlefield letter, and the only track to feature piano.

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