Picks and Pans Review: Land of Enchantment
Michael Martin Murphey
Lively, melodic, a bit socially conscious and as full of stubborn optimism as the vistas its title suggests, this is one kick of a country album.
Murphey sounds engaged all the way through, perhaps because he and his producers, Steve Gibson and Jim Ed Norman, chose such an appropriate batch of songs—varied, yet all within Murphey's vocal and emotional range. A slight hedge might be justified when it comes to Murphey's version of the Bobby Troup jazz classic "Route 66"—whatever else M.M.M. is, Nat King Cole he ain't—but the tune fits the album's Westward Ho! theme and it has survived worse renditions than this.
The rest of the album, in any case, fairly gallops along. "Never Givin' Up on Love," from the Clint Eastwood film Pink Cadillac, is a loose-gaited romp written by the imaginative Michael Smotherman. Thorn Schuyler's "Family Tree" gives Murphey a chance to sound all folksy and domestic. "Got to Pay the Fiddler," which Murphey wrote with Don Cook and Chick Rains, has an insistent beat, a bit of philosophizing and some efficient storytelling—about a young woman who heads West to escape a cruel father.
Murphey, whose records have often saluted American Indians, uses Peter Rowan's song "Land of the Navajo" to that end on this album. While it's not exactly lighthearted—"We've raped and killed and stole your land/ We ruled with guns and knives"—it's not unnecessarily heavy-handed either.
Most of the album is far more playful. Typical is a tribute to the 100th anniversary of a beloved American institution, "Jukebox": "Aretha, Dolly and Buddy Holly, and everything that reels and rocks/ 'Cause you'll always be around just layin' down the sounds/ We love you, old jukebox." Good-time song; good-time album. (Warner Bros.)
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