I have mixed thoughts about live albums. I’ll admit there is no live album that even cracks my top fifteen albums of all times. There are some bands that notoriously release great live albums. Bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish come to mind. Bootlegs of their live performances have become quite the commodity. Then you have albums like Frampton Comes Alive! and Live at the Apollo that are what you might consider to be classic live albums.
Chris Murphy is an artist that I was familiar with prior to his recent album Hard Bargain which is a live album of a solo performance. His previous studio albums Red Mountain Blues and The Tinker's Dream showcased powerful performances that could be heartfelt, energetic and melancholy.
Hard Bargain boils down his music to the bare essentials. A violin, a stomp board and vocal mic. The sparsity is perhaps its strongest on the opening track “Caves of Killala” which wraps you in the warmth of the strings of the violin. It sounds as if he is playing in a cathedral as he shows restraint in his playing.
Around the two-minute mark the music takes a lively turn as he utilizes the stomp box and changes his playing style to something that sounded like it was coming out of a Celtic bar. Once the vocals come in the song transitions to what you might call its third movement. It's the longest song at just over eight minutes and certainly one of the highlights.
The next couple of tracks “Hard Bargain” and “Ain’t No Place” aren't nearly as ambitious as the opener but perhaps more of crowd pleasers. The crowd claps along and both songs are upbeat and fun. As the performance continues and I felt the energy moved at good pace. Some songs like “Prevailing Winds” are slower, emotionally resonant tracks but others like “Last Bridge” could get the crowd dancing.
Murphy hasn't changed my view of live albums but Hard Bargain is nothing to scoff at. It builds on his prolific career and offers us a glimpse into what his live performances are like.
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