The cowboy spirit comes alive with Murphey
Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., April 28, 1999
By Jeffrey B. Remz
SOMERVILLE, MA - Michael Martin Murphey has worn and shorn different musical persona during his career.
Early on, he gained a foothold on pop radio with his acoustic flavored songs like his biggest hit "Wildfire" and "Carolina in the Pines"
He eventually shifted towards country, scoring a number one with "What's Forever For."
But never one to go with the mainstream, Murphey opted out again and went western as in cowboy and western songs for the last decade.
And that's where he is still out today, readily indicated by his first Boston-area show in eons. Sounding slightly hoarse, Murphey, 54, emphasized the cowboy side in his first hour-long set.
The songs, usually slow and spare, often focus on Native Americans, cowboys, horses and the land. Yes, there may be tales of broken love and heartache, but there's a story behind almost all of the songs. One of the most touching was "Spanish Eyes," written by a South Dakota cowboy poet Badger Clark, who found love across the Mexican border only to return home alone.
Cowboy songs, such as this, helped bring alive a slice of life in America's past. Murphey gave tender renditions of the songs, turning in a very strong "Trail Song Medley,"
A crack three-piece backing band of David Coe (not David Allan Coe), who was quite key on fiddle and mandolin, Paul Saddler on guitar and Gary Roller on bass added the right touch throughout.
During the second set, Murphey delved into his past, offering his hits. He was in better vocal form, while the music contained more of a musical punch.
Murphey returned to his true roots - the western song - on the closing "Happy Trails." Here, Murphey combined the best of both story and song.
While many think, for example, Roy Rogers wrote the song, it was his wife, Dale Evans, who did.
And while you may think it's strictly a riding song, it isn't. Evans wrote the song as a memorial to their only child, a three-year-old Down's Syndrome girl, who died. Murphey went onto say how Evans raised the stature of Down's children through a best selling book and later a Madison Square Garden concert.
Murphey told the faithful crowd that they may never think of the song in the same way again. Thanks to Murphey and his winning evening of cowboy and country music, we won't.