Chris Murphy,
(Kufala, 2004)

I have previously written about Chris Murphy's CD Noir. In that review, I noted that the violin/fiddle was my favorite instrument and that I was pretty picky with the violinists I counted as my favorite. I mentioned that Chris had quickly jumped towards the top of that list, but I was waiting to hear more material. With Juniper, I have the opportunity to experience more of Chris's talent.

Unlike Noir, Juniper is not a solo effort. Chris is joined by various musicians playing guitar (Rick Holstrom), drums (Daniel Glass, Bryan Head, Stuart Johnson, Avi Sills, Karen Teperberg, Don Gruendier) and bass (Dustin Morgan, Hal Cragin, David J. Carpenter, Ted Kamp, Lou Castro).

Like Noir, the tracks presented on Juniper are original compositions. This CD is also quite varied, blending "styles, genres and eras" and playing bluegrass, Cajun, Celtic, rock and blues-inspired violin music "as if his life depended on it" (promo material). For you violin purists out there, know that Murphy plays his violin through a guitar amp adding an electric spin to his instrument of choice.

Juniper starts off with the appropriately titled "Into the Wild." This piece is a raucous, toe-tappin', get-this-party-started tune. It has a country-rock flair that (amusingly enough) conjures up images of a Dukes of Hazzard car chase. I like it!

The title track "Juniper" has a Celtic-rock feel. At any moment, you might expect the Corrs to join in. It is a little hard to believe Chris was born and raised in New York City as he jumps from genre to genre. One does not normally associate NYC and fiddle players. Yet, perhaps living in such a cosmopolitan place is precisely what contributes to the fact that the tracks progress in such a smooth fashion. The styles of music throughout the CD might be disparate, but Chris has blended them seamlessly.

I am going to have to rethink my association of polka and accordions. On "Peppermint Polka," Chris proves that the fiddle can lead this style of fast Czech/Polish dance music. I looked on Chris's website to see if I could find out how peppermint fits in. Alas, neither the website nor the CD liner notes explain the link. The connection isn't implicit, but this is still pretty decent polka.

While there is some excellent music on Juniper, there is one thing that annoyed me about this recording. I tried playing it on my computer, my car stereo and my home stereo. No matter how much I attempted to adjust the settings, there was a constant electronic hum that I could never entirely subdue. I am going to blame it on the studio, not the musicians, since I've heard Murphy on another CD and did not have this problem. If you decide to check Juniper out, I hope this won't impact your listening pleasure. I personally find myself listening more to Noir because that hum can become annoying. As such, Chris will remain No. 3 on my list of favorite fiddlers behind Hugh Marsh and Karen Briggs.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 10 September 2005

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