One-man show... For a guy who abandoned his native city for Austin years ago, Darin Murphy sure was spending a lot of time slumming in Houston a few months back. And while Murphy loves his mum as much as anyone, the reasons for his frequent visits home were, in truth, more practical than personal: He'd found a free place to record, not to mention a wealth of constructive input from the studio's owner, Darrell Clingman.
"It's an expensive-sounding record that we wound up making for almost nothing," says Murphy of his debut CD, Solitarium, out now on Clingman's Copper Records.
Still known best for his previous affiliation with younger sister Trish, Darin (he goes by only his first name these days) rings in the release of Solitarium with a Saturday show at the Outback Pub. And frankly, he has a lot to celebrate. Whimsically ambitious and winsomely melodic, Solitarium buries for good Murphy's lingering rep as the underachiever of the Trish and Darin partnership -- you know, the wifty, offbeat half with the unhealthy John Lennon fixation.
"To me, it means that I'm gearing myself toward a different audience than the Trish and Darin audience," he says. "I can't even listen to the old Trish and Darin albums, because I had so many problems with the way they ended up sounding. I decided that this time around, I am going to make a record that I would enjoy listening to."
In the end, Solitarium is so much more than just another of Murphy's homemade Beatles simulations (though damned if he didn't record a flawless "That Boy"). Although Murphy did have some help with recording and mixing, Solitarium is unequivocally his baby. He plays every instrument (from guitar, bass and drums, to tamboura, synthesizer and theremin). And other than Trish singing backup on one track (the low-wattage, burn-out anthem "Stuck in a Hole"), he supplies all the vocals, capitalizing fully on the appeal of that nasally, semi-aristocratic timbre of his.
Murphy has always been a human sponge, his maximum absorption factor seemingly triggered by anything cleverly rendered, melodically challenging ... and British. With Solitarium, he squeezes out a lumpy masterpiece swimming with loving asides (however inadvertent) to many of his heroes. Tops on the list: the Beach Boys, XTC and, of course, the Fab Four. Listen closely, and you might even hear the kind of '70s influences Murphy isn't all that comfortable divulging -- for example, the over-the-top, Foreigner-like bridge on "So You Think"; the Wingsy coyness of "She's Better Than Me."
Solitarium might also be seen as a twisted companion piece to Cotton Mather's comparably Beatlesque Kontiki CD, released on Copper last year. Murphy contributed drums to that disc, and his work with the Austin group helped inspire a certain outlook for his own project. "[Cotton Mather's] Robert [Harrison] is such a fantastic guy to make records with; he's so enthusiastic," he says. "I took the same kind of approach when I made my record."
Many a quirky keepsake from Murphy's (sort of) Houston homecoming can be found within the skewed crannies of Solitarium. Sure, a significant portion of the album was recorded in Austin, but the entire work retains a wiggy spirit borne out of his tinkerings in Clingman's studio.
"Darrell and I both had an experimental attitude, but his recording background and my recording background were coming from two different angles," Murphy says. "Somehow we met in the middle."
After his gig in Houston, Murphy will hit the road for a small regional tour, with stops in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other parts of Texas. After spending more than a year easing Solitarium out of the chute, he's more than ready to take the music on the road -- even if he hasn't settled on a backup band yet:
"In Austin, it's damn near impossible to get a loyal lineup until you can afford to pay them something and give them the idea that there are good things to come."
Solitarium ought to be all the assurance he needs.
Etc...To all brass fanatics wondering whether TKoh!'s Sunday residency at Instant Karma has ended for good: There's no cause for alarm. The horny ones simply took a few weeks off to accommodate other events at the club. The band will resume its regular rotation at Karma on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, Houston blues survivor Pete Mayes will mark the release of his Antone's Records debut, For Pete's Sake, with a special appearance in front of a hometown crowd at Double Bayou Dance Hall. Located in Anahuac, which is about 65 miles east of Houston, the place was started by Mayes's uncle, and has played host to some of the genre's most enduring legends.
-- Hobart Rowland
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