Strings of the Storm

Elliott Murphy

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Strings of the Storm Review

by William Ruhlmann

At age 54, Elliott Murphy has been recording albums of his original compositions regularly for 30 years, and unlike some musicians who have been at it that long (such as Neil Young, whose raucous, Crazy Horse-style guitar playing is echoed on this album's leadoff track and whose After the Gold Rush ballad "Birds" is covered under the title "Bird"), he hasn't changed much about his musical or lyrical approach in that time. The Elliott Murphy of 2003 is not very different from the Elliott Murphy of 1973. He still writes semi-autobiographical songs full of poetic imagery and literary references (The Great Gatsby and Samuel Beckett are favorites), and he still sets them to folk-rock arrangements that call to mind Bob Dylan. If one thing has changed, it is that, for the first several years of his recording career, Murphy worked for major labels that presumably gave him bigger recording budgets and exercised some degree of editorial control over his work. But over the last couple of decades, he has been making his albums for small labels, doubtless recording on a shoestring at times, but pretty much able to do as he liked. The sprawling Strings of the Storm is as good an example of this as any of his albums; in fact, perhaps a better one than most. It is a two-CD studio recording of 21 new original songs (in addition to "Bird," there is a cover of the traditional song "The Banks of the Ohio," for a total of 23 tracks), with a running time over an hour and three-quarters. Murphy leads an acoustic band for the most part, playing his guitar and accompanied by lead guitarist Olivier Durand (whose efforts, which also include a handful of co-writing credits and some singing, earn him a featured billing on the album), longtime bassist Ernie Brooks, and drummer Danny Montgomery, with some added percussion and keyboards here and there, notably Kenny Margolis' accordion, plus frequent harmony vocals by Cindy Bullens. Singing in a gruff conversational voice, Murphy frequently expresses romantic regret, especially in the songs on the second disc, his rueful world-weariness tempered by a lingering, wistful sense of the wonder of romance. This is an album for fans of late-period Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan if they are interested in hearing from another mature, self-reflective musical poet who is hanging in despite life's disappointments, hoping against hope for the next great love or at least still taking aesthetic pleasure in life's emotional and philosophical complexities.

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