Four Out of Five Stars
Of all the artists that earned critical acclaim as a so-called “New Dylan”—the prevailing hook to hang a new generation of singer/songwriters on in the early to mid ‘70s—Elliott Murphy can still be considered an artist worthy of that distinction. Early albums, Aquashow (1973), Lost Generation (1975), and Just a Story from America (1977), combined social conscience, intelligence, and credibility in ways other heartland heroes—Springsteen, Seger, and Mellencamp—would procure for themselves, albeit with greater success. Nevertheless, Murphy’s music still retains an essential status, and now, even 50 years on and after dozens of studio albums, compilations, re-releases, and live offerings populating his ever-expanding catalog, he shows no signs of slowing down. Granted, as an American expatriate living in Paris, he’s distanced himself from the musical mainstream, but given the quality of his work, it demands attention regardless.
I’ve been blessed with anonymous fame, he sings in “That’s the Scene,” his ode to the heroes of rock and roll. When I walk down the street, nobody knows my name.
Not surprisingly then, many of the songs on his new album come across as steady and steadfast in both delivery and deliberation. Yet, even so, Murphy doesn’t negate the emotion, whether it’s through the quiet, contemplative gaze of “Hope (In Your Eyes),” the steady stride of “Sunlight Keeps Falling,” or the catchy and contagious choruses that elevate and energize “I Know There’s Place,” “Lack of Perspective,” “Hailstones,” and “That’s the Scene.” Still, Murphy’s inherent strength lies in subtle suggestion, a sound that demands the time taken to lean in and listen. Even when certain songs—“Bystanders” and “Children of Children” in particular—seem to glide by on a breezy sway and saunter, there’s still deeper meaning shared through Murphy’s messaging.
Likewise, the spacious arrangements serve to underscore the sentiment.
It’s little wonder then that Murphy chose to name his new album Wonder, given the calming yet compelling approach taken throughout. As the title of one of the more emphatic songs suggests, it’s “Something Very Consequential.” At this point in his career, he’s clearly earned the distinction of being considered an elder statesman of sorts, an artist with a commitment to cause and the wisdom to remain relevant, even in changing times. With that articulate ability readily at his command, the wonder of it all manages to remain intact.
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