If you're not familiar with Chris Murray yet, you should be. The man also known as Venice Shoreline Chris returns with an album's worth of soulful ska and reggae, recorded solo on a four-track recorder. Stripping the music to its bare essentials, Murray's brilliant songwriting comes into sharp focus. While he's made a career of writing great songs, both with his band, King Apparatus, and with/for the likes of Skavoovie & The Epitones, The Slackers, Hepcat, and The Stubborn All-Stars, it's his solo four-track work that's the most intimate, and somehow, the most inspiring and "real."
Take "California Time," for example, on which Murray pulls off some complex three-part harmonies while maintaining a frenetic beat on guitar and hi-hat. The song sounds laid back and smooth, belying the effort that must have gone into the track. Or "One Everything," a beautiful, spiritual track that would easily stand toe-to-toe with some of King Django's best work. Or for a more immediate example, compare his solo version of "Boyo," included here, with the version recorded by Skavoovie & The Epitones (who he wrote the song for). While both versions are great, there's something about Murray's solo version that gets right to the core of the song. Perhaps it's his charming singing of parts that have become familiar as horn lines, or perhaps it's just the passion of hearing it from the original songwriter for the first time, but either way, the song takes on a new perspective hearing it in this form.
I wouldn't rule out the "charming" factor as a big part of Murray's appeal, either. Having seen him live, it's impossible not to admire the courage of a guy that gets up in front of a crowded room of jaded '90s ska fans with nothing more than a guitar and a smile, and through the sheer force of his charisma, wins over the audience and has them clapping and singing along like a campfire round. That magnetic charm definitely comes across on 4-Trackaganza! -- after all, who else could pull off a solo acoustic reggae cover of The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Science Fiction Double Feature (complete with reprise)? For that matter, I defy you to find another artist working today that could create music that's so deceptively simple sounding, yet so rich and full. You can't do it -- nobody else even comes close. Couple that with the fact that this authentic-sounding Jamaican music is coming from a Canadian, and the mind reels!
If you loved Murray's first full-length, The 4-Track Adventures of Venice Shoreline Chris, you will absolutely love this one, too -- it's easily as good, if not better. If you haven't yet discovered Murray's unique sound and unparalleled songwriting, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this record!
Asian Man Records, PO Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA 95030-5585; http://www.asianman.com, http://www.chrismurray.net