Michael Martin Murphey is now four decades into his career and has traveled a musical journey from what best can be described as pop-country, to country, to a cowboy & western sound, and now a fusion with bluegrass music.
If you only remember Murphey for his hits of thirty years ago, you have missed a lot of good music. Such songs as “Wildfire,” “What’s Forever For,” and “Carolina In The Pines” were memorable but he has continued to evolve. He is now recognized as one of the leading practitioners of American western music. His 1990 album, Cowboy Songs, was the first album of the type since Marty Robbins recorded in the early sixties, to receive a gold record for sales.
Murphey has returned in 2009 with a new album titled Buckaroo Blue Grass. It is an interesting combination of musical styles. He has divided bluegrass into two words and as such it takes on a dual meaning. It is bluegrass meets the music of the American west. The title hints at the combination of a country musical form with the image of the prairie. It is a creative fusion and is about as American in sound as you can get.
The instruments that are found on the album are for the most part traditional bluegrass. Mandolins, fiddles, banjo, and guitars dominate and combine into a sound that would have made Bill Monroe smile. The songs, however, are more straight forward country in nature. Murphey also does not have a traditional bluegrass voice which in this case is fine. It all adds up to a hybrid sound that is both smooth and appealing. It retains bluegrass roots but escapes that niche and should appeal to a broader audience.
“Lone Cowboy” leads off the album and is representative of what will follow. Fiddle, mandolin, and banjo provide the background for Murphey’s peppy vocal.
There are a number gems to be found on this release. “What Am I Doing Hanging Around” is up-tempo with wonderful harmonies. “Lost River” is an uplifting story of the west with more nice harmonies from Rhonda Vincent. “Carolina In The Pines” features virtuoso banjo playing against a fiddle background. Let me note here that there are no violins in bluegrass. “Dancing In The Meadow” is a song that just stays with you. “Fiddlin’ Man'” is a hand clapping good time and reminds me of a square dance.
Buckaroo Blue Grass is a creative album that works. It provides a pleasant and interesting listening experience for fans of country, western, and bluegrass music. I would recommend it as a definite buy.