Album Reviews

Michael Martin Murphey

High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII

Artist:     Michael Martin Murphey

Album:     High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII

Label:     Self Released

Release Date:     04/22/2016


Best known for the series of chart hits he wrote for others and sang himself in the early ‘70s — “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” “Cosmic Cowboy,” Wildfire,” “Carolina in the Pines,” “What’s Forever For” et. al. — Michael Martin Murphey’s been creating musical magic ever since, having become the singular voice of the singing cowboy for a new generation of fans and admirers who still admire the rugged individualism which that particular label implies. However, Murphey’s cowboy persona isn’t simply some lone and distant romantic figure, but rather a representative of those who see the vast expanse of prairies and plains shrinking as it succumbs to the squandered resources and an industrialized society that takes those treasures for granted. On High Stakes, Murphey sings about this perilous predicament, while celebrating a lifestyle that is in danger of vanishing too fast.

“We must never let ‘em take this life away,” he implores his listeners on the beautiful Australian cowboy ballad “Campfire on the Road.” “Old stock routes belong to one and all/Drovers, dreamers all agree/Poets, Aborigines/We have a right to light a campfire on the road.”

Indeed, it’s clear those sentiments aren’t simply confined to this country. While Martin’s choice of a pair of Marty Robbins gunfighter songs — “Running Gun” and “Master’s Call” — inform the legend and affirm the narrative, the celtic strains of “Emila Farewell” and “The End of the Road” expand the message as part of a universal theme, not only adding to the overall allure, but underlying its potency as well. It is, in fact, a remarkable mosaic, possibly the most sumptuous set of songs Murphey has ever offered in his entire 40 year career. High Stakes offers a message that needs to be heeded, as well as a sound that’s all but impossible to resist.

– Lee Zimmerman

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