For twenty-five years Chris Murphy has been making original music. It’s certainly interesting to think about how much the industry has changed since then. Murphy surely has adapted to ever changing industry and recently released Surface To Air.
Murphy is well known for his skills on the violin and his instrument of choice is certainly all over this album. That being said Surface To Air is also a pop album that still puts the vocals at the focal center for some of the songs. The album is quite varied ranging from relatively straightforward pop songs to instrumental pieces to some one-offs.
Murphy opens with “Sailing the World Alone” which is an upbeat, energetic, country/pop song. The instrumentation is rich and layered. Organ, violin, drums, guitar, bass and more fill the frequency spectrum with myriad of tones and textures. “Sailing the World Alone” is a single-worthy song. It is arguably the most palatable but it wasn’t a personal favorite.
The upbeat, optimistic energy of the first song carries over to “That Just Might Do the Trick.” It’s another solid song but I preferred the Rusted Root vibe on the exceptional instrumental piece “The Blacksmith’s Fancy.” Murphy returns to exuberant country pop on “Dead Weight” before pulling off “Vernon Tool & Die” which has a Tom Waits eastern waltz thing going on. “Vernon Tool & Die” was a highlight that was catchy yet a bit off-kilter from anything that came before.
Speaking of a waltz another highlight was “The Oscar Wilde Waltz” which features smooth violin and sparkling piano. As the album progressed I started to prefer the tracks that seemed less likely to be heard on mainstream radio such as “Bugulusa Blues” and “Music for a Feast.”
The dichotomy between Murphy’s upbeat pop and his impressive instrumental songs felt at odds with each other at time. It seems as if Murphy is trying to appeal to a wide demographic with catchy choruses and also indulge his technical side with inspired jam sessions. I’d say this is the only hole I see in this album. Other than that there is still plenty to enjoy here. The production and delivery is fantastic and the songs are well written.
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