Elliott Murphy's Masterpiece
Mike B. | 03/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After his great 1973 debut album "Aquashow", Murphy was one of many labeled "the new Dylan". There was some similarity, but Elliott was also quite different.
He'd been raised on Long Island, and developed an early fascination with New York City. The fair-haired boy would venture into town to hang out with the Velvet Underground and other scenesters of the day at the club Max's Kansas City. In fact, he even wrote the blurb inside the Velvets' "Live 1969" double album. When he put out his first record, he mostly wrote about what he knew - growing up on Long Island, and his infatuation with the big city. Murphy was never Woody Guthriesque like Dylan, but rocked more along the lines of Lou Reed.
The early hype got him a big record contract, and he issued two more great albums, "Lost Generation" and "Night Lights". These continued his tradition of mixing mostly rock songs with an occasional slower acoustic number. His skills as a wordsmith evolved at a quick pace - Murphy's an astute observer of "the human condition" and expresses himself well. Romanticized New York stories continued to abound. On the former record he sings a song about Andy Warhol, on the latter there's one about Patti Smith. While some songs are more plebeian, he writes comfortably and knowingly of the desires, foibles and travails of the "upper classes". A fan of classic authors, Murphy delights in portraying the rich as tragic Gatsby-type characters. His songwriting often shows the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and sometimes even Faulkner. He's got an eye for detail.
By the time he released his fourth album "Just A Story From America" (1977), his musicianship and lyric writing ability were at their peak. This is widely acknowledged as his masterpiece, and deservedly so.
Elliott plays his usual guitars, keyboards, and harmonica, and is accompanied throughout by Phil Collins of Genesis. Collins really propels the record along with some of the best drumming he's ever done. He's perfect on every song. The most famous other guest musician is former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who only plays (exquisitely) on "Rock Ballad". Others are Peter Oxendale on piano and organ, Dave Markee on bass, and Morris Pert on percussion.
The album opens with the Springsteen-ish "Drive All Night", practically a tribute to Bruce's song "Born To Run". I can't rave enough about the gorgeous "Rock Ballad", a reminisce about old lovers and friends who "can't let it end - the surf's breaking". Or "Anastasia", about the Russian czar's lost daughter. This song has to be heard to be believed. With a sweeping orchestral string arrangement and a boys church choir wordlessly accompanying the dramatic lyrics like angels on high, it's an extremely rare achievement. Majestic and beautiful. It belongs in the same select club as Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel's "Sebastian" and Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights". And that's it - it's a very small club!
The album concludes with the epic "Caught Short In The Long Run", in which he laments not being able to save his lover from self-destruction. Powerful stuff. And I've only written about 4 of the songs - the other 5 are equally terrific. There's not a bad track here.
Disillusioned that his 4 albums didn't sell very well, Murphy became an expatriate. "Anastasia" had been a huge hit in France, so he decamped for Paris - where he resides to this day. He's released many high quality albums over the years (Murphy only sings in English), lately accompanied by French guitar virtuoso Olivier Durand. Of his immediate peer group, the only other artist I can think of that's sustained such a long winning streak (no bad albums) is Graham Parker. Coincidentally, Parker's masterpiece "Squeezing Out Sparks" was his fourth album, too.
Elliott's records are mostly available only as imports, and he seldom if ever returns to America. He still sings about life and love in New York, but a lot less often than he used to. He performs many concerts a year throughout Europe, where he's regarded as a major artist and poet. In France in particular they've adopted him, and he's a figure of Springsteen proportions there.
"Aquashow" is available on CD. "Lost Generation" and "Night Lights" are available together on a two-disc set that features many great previously unreleased tracks. I highly recommend these CD's. If you want to hear what he's like now, look into "Coming Home Again" (2006). It's very good. But most of all, don't miss "Just A Story From America"."
An Amazing Album From An Under Appreciated Artist
Gordon S. Clarry | Barrie, Ontario Canada | 04/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have not heard Elliott Murphy on commercial radio in North America since the late 1970s. And that is sad, indeed, for Elliott is an amazing song-writer and musician.The song that introduced me to Elliott Murphy was Anastasia. A moving song about Princess Anastasia, the Ramanoff family and the tragedy of conflict between tradition and revolutionary ideas. But there are other gems on this album. Think Too Hard, Drive All Night and Darlin' display Elliott's ability to write and play rock music. Rock Ballad, Let Go, and Caught Short In The Long Run display Elliott's Dylanesque ability at writing folkier ballads. And the title track, Just A Story From America has an entertaining Calypso flavour to it.If you own just one Elliott Murphy album, this is the one to have."
An 8 Track Tape Full Of Memories
The Wood Floors | NH | 05/21/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This Album is really great, I remember listening to 8 track tapes as a kid at my brothers house and hearing some of the best music NOT in his collection. The 8 tracks were made by his friend, who insisted they didn't buy the same albums. Anyway, On an 8 Track titled Rock Ballad, there were 3 great songs from this album (rock ballad, drive all night, anastasia) If you like mid '70's songwriters, do not miss this album, or Night Lights, Some really inspired Springsteen-ish stuff. Buy it now"