Juniper – Chris MurphySalton Songs – Chris Murphy
If silver spoons were musical instruments, Chris Murphy would have been born with a violin jutting from his maw. Rooted in his immense training and unhindered imagination, his adventurous style is clear on the companion works Salton Songs and Juniper, on which the Murphy aims to tickle the fray of violin music at contrasting ends. Salton Songs is described as ‘Electric Violin Music,’ while Juniper is dubbed ‘Fiddle Music,’ but despite the wide expanse that runs between the two concepts, the albums ultimately depict a talented violinist whose polished style drips freely from anything he plays, whether bass-fueled trance or bucolic hymns. Through both releases, Murphy’s playing waxes and wanes set above accompaniment that is occasionally more interesting than the stringed themes that spill through each composition; his fluctuating melodies drift like ethereal vocal parts emerging from a hi-tech elevator sound system, but bolstered by robust rhythmic backing. Salton Songs’ languid violin strokes sway just above the bass line and are interwoven with programmed effects during ‘Reactor.’ ‘Laughing Hands’ offers atmospheric, ambient textures bolstered by disintegrating drum frequencies, while ‘CoCo’s Lament’ is a percussive puddle splash, held together by distant, sinewy violin. Where Salton Songs bounces, Juniper breathes. The lazy gaze of Murphy’s fiddle is even-tempered, delicate and warm. The arrangements are sparing expanses of rustling leaves, his playing the temperate, polished breeze. But again, this change in atmosphere comes courtesy of the backing orchestration. The rotating group of drummers and bassists set his violin tones to vibrant, full rhythms that swell with gentle ease, offering a supple platform for Murphy to deliver fluttering melodies. ‘The Painted Desert’ begs for a strong female voice belting out a country yarn, and conforms in style to the bluegrass riffing that propels ‘Great Expectations.’ But the ambient crawl of ‘Thanksgiving’ and the effect-laden beats that anchor ‘I’m Nobody’s Sweetheart Now’ are reminders of the progressive themes found on Salton Songs.
Salton Songs and Juniper kindle one burning question: why two albums? Conceptually, the releases come from different worlds, but realistically, the commonality of Murphy’s tone and approach are the umbilical chord that tie Salton Songs and Juniper closer to each other. By shaving down each offering to create a single disc, Murphy could have saved his sprawling offerings from drifting into subtle background music for yuppie cocktail hours. While each album fails to muster the strength to stand alone, a more condensed, pointed offering could have spotlighted the impact of Murphy’s artistic caliber, and painted a more substantial portrait of this well-versed composer and his range.