Don’t ask me what number album this is for rock singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy—I lost count years ago. All I can tell you is that it’s the 36th one in my collection, and I know I’m missing a few. The guy is incredibly prolific, so much so that he must have decided it was time to rush out this five-song EP, lest his fans wonder what happened to him — after all, he hasn’t put out a full-length album since way back in 2013. (Murphy has also found time to write a lot of prose over the years; in 2012, he penned the foreword to my book Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.)
He is nearly as consistent—and consistently underrated—as he is productive, so it’s no surprise that this package is worth hearing. The music is engaging and beautifully played by Murphy and his longtime cohorts, including most notably guitarist Olivier Durant. That said, there’s nothing here that’s quite as lilting or catchy as, say, “Irish Eyes” or “Come On Louann” (both from 2001’s Soul Surfing) and nothing as hard-rocking as the bulk of 2009’s Alive in Paris. That is perhaps by design, though; this is clearly intended to be an introspective and intimate package, and the mood leans heavily toward melancholy.
The lyrics evidence Murphy’s penchant for inventive wordplay but also his tendency in recent years to be rather abstruse. He seems to be singing to himself throughout much of this album and doesn’t appear particularly focused on making sure his audience has much idea what he’s talking about. But he’s clever enough to get away with that much of the time; like Dylan’s lyrics, Murphy’s frequently prove memorable despite the fact that you don’t know exactly what they add up to. Other times, though, they sound as if he’s making them up as he goes along, resulting in stream-of-consciousness lines that are fun albeit less than profound. Consider: “Walking backwards into the abyss/A New York bagel, that’s what I miss.” Also: “The higher we go, the lower we fall/Pinky Lee and the Taj Mahal.”
So should you buy this album? That depends. If you’re new to Elliott Murphy, I can think of better places to start getting acquainted. (Try the aforementioned Alive in Paris or Lost Generation/Night Lights, a repackaging of a pair of mid-'70s gems.) But if you’re already a fan, by all means add this to the CD pile. It may not be his best, but Murphy doesn’t have to peak out to outshine a lot of the competition.
A final note. When I first saw that the track list included a song called “Every Little Star,” I thought perhaps Murphy had covered Linda Scott’s 1961 pop hit “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” He hadn’t, but it’s not such a crazy idea. In the past, he has done wonderful versions not only of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” but of early rock hits like the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” and Buddy Holly’s “Every Day” (the latter on Every Day is a Holly Day, a multi-artist tribute album). Those recordings suggest that a whole CD of vintage rock covers from Murphy would be terrific, so I’m hoping he’ll find time for such a project one of these days.