“Buckaroo Blue Grass II” by Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey
Buckaroo Blue Grass II
Rural Rhythm Records
3 stars (out of 5)

Michael Martin Murphey built a career out of a few country-rock hits in the early ’70s. Now staples in the country field, “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” “Wildfire,” and “Carolina in the Pines” didn’t make significant impact on the country charts when released; Michael Murphey made his initial appearances on the more open pop charts of the day.

Of course, the Texan eventually adopted his full name and found a home within the country market, reeling off a string of Billboard Country Top 40 appearances through the ’80s. As the hits faded, Murphey embraced the cowboy poetry circuit, releasing several albums of music that were more western than country.

Always adaptable, last year brought MMM’s first foray into the bluegrass world with the Grammy®-nominated Buckaroo Blue Grass. 2010 has him roaming the same range with Buckaroo Blue Grass II.

I’m left to ask, Why?

Before the publicists and label folks get upset, let me explain a bit. I doubt there are many bigger Michael Martin Murphey appreciators in the bluegrass world than me. “Wildfire” was a seminal song of my childhood, and I’ve followed his career from a distance since. As the years passed, I’ve picked up the occasional new release and have owned more than one MMM compilation. His voice remains rich and smooth, ideally suited to his material, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

But Michael Martin Murphey is not a bluegrass singer, and to his credit I can find no reference where he claims to be such.

Buckaroo Blue Grass II
is quite enjoyable and is entirely harmless, much as one who has heard the previous release might expect. He sings like Michael Martin Murphey throughout. But I’m still not sure why MMM and the Rural Rhythm folks felt the need to go down this path.

Why do country singers want to move into the bluegrass field? I guess the question (and likely, the answer) is the same as, Why do rock singers want to move into the country world?

Almost all of these songs have been previously recorded by Murphey and the bluegrass instrumentation—while expertly played—adds little to their appreciation. The playing is impeccable. The same names appear on this album as did on the initial endeavor—Flynn, Leftwich, Bush, Ickes, Cushman, and Ronnie McCoury—with Andy Hall, Audie Blaylock, and Carrie Hassler also dropping by.

What we have here is a country and western vocalist singing with bluegrass players. The umpteenth rendition of “Wildfire” doesn’t make this an essential recording, nor do the versions of “Cosmic Cowboy,” “Medicine Man,” and “Backslider’s Wine.”

A rendering of “Running Gun,” made semi-famous by Marty Robbins is of some interest and not only for Audie Blaylock’s acoustic lead contributions; this and the album’s lead track—a well-known MMM song “Blue Sky Riding Song”—kick off the album with momentum, but this is not maintained.

If creating this album pleases Michael Martin Murphey and his label, that’s fine. It’s their money, their effort and time. Buckaroo Blue Grass II will likely provide a pleasant listen for some.

Me? I’m reminded how much I enjoy this singer, but I’ll stick to the Murphey recordings that don’t play at bluegrass.

by Donald Teplyske

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