By: Greg Gargiulo
Lone Cowboy, I'm doing my best
Lone Cowboy, I go everywhere west
Lone Cowboy, with my old campfire songs
Lone Cowboy, giddy up, get along
The first refrain of opener (you guessed it) "Lone Cowboy" should suffice to give an accurate portrait of what Michael Martin Murphey is all about and what his music stands for. A land-loving, horse-riding, guitar-picking icon of everything cowboy for the greater part of his 40-plus-year career, Murphey (or 3M) writes and sings as he sees it - and loves it - and no major stretch of the imagination is needed to grasp his picturesque imagery. He remains one of the last existing traces of a lineage that has now faded, namely the homegrown, simplistic, rugged ranchers from the days of yore in the grain of Hank Williams, superseded today by a breed of "country" that plainly feels far removed from the homeland and its roots. For Buckaroo Blue Grass (released February 10 on Rural Rhythm Records), his 28th album, 3M, with the help of his son Ryan, rounded up a cast of premiere bluegrass players to rework many of his beloved classics and try out a pair of newbies with a touch of extra twang and a whole lot of fiddle-infused spice.
Several themes run thick through Buckaroo, but none as resplendent as Murphey's absolute infatuation with the land, and the countryside in particular. 3M is proud of his heritage, proud of the land he lives on, and if you haven't been to his native East Texas, his tunes should come pretty close to taking you there. When you get true bluegrass renditions of pieces like "Carolina in the Pines," one of Murphey's staples, each instrument - the banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass - assumes a voice, and each voice represents an element of the very nature Murphey sings about. To him, few things compare to the healing power these songs hold: "There are nights I only feel right with Carolina in the pines." "Close to the Land (America's Heartland)," the other new tune aside from "Lone Cowboy," assigns the same sort of natural allure, offering an ode to those who grew up on the land and providing at least a slight yearning to those who haven't a chance to feel what it might be like. But, we've also got straight hootin' n' hollerin', boot-clickin' ditties like "Fiddlin' Man" and "Cherokee Fiddle," clamorous joints about not much else than playing the fiddle, drinking whiskey and having yourself a honky-tonkin' hell of a time. "Dancing in the Meadow" gets extra wild with a story akin to the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," complete with bumbling banjos, hearty, sinister laughs and an overall sense of reckless abandonment, country western style.
Though the apparent "stars" of the genre point to other conclusions, authentic cowboys actually do still cut records. Sifting through all the processed glam and faux country out there, Michael Martin Murphey, for one, still lounges on his porch, dishing out tunes with the same heirloom recipe he's been using since he was first introduced.
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