CD Review - Elliott Murphy 'Notes From the Underground,' Jann Klose 'Reverie'

Elliott Murphy's 30th album is a mixed bag.
Elliott Murphy's 30th album is a mixed bag.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

ELLIOTT MURPHY "Notes From the Underground" Last Call Records JANN KLOSE "Reverie" 3 Frames Music

ELLIOTT MURPHY and Jann Klose are singer-songwriters on the opposite ends of their careers.

Murphy, in his fourth decade as a performer, just released his 30th album, while Klose's (much more satisfying) CD is his debut.

Murphy is a near-legend of folk-rock; Bruce Springsteen, David Johansen and Phil Collins have all guested on his albums. Rolling Stone headlined his first album by saying, "He's the Best Dylan Since 1968." He has been living in Paris since 1990, finding more commercial success in Europe than in America. And he has kept up a blistering pace of recording and touring since his debut in 1973.

His new album, "Notes From the Underground," bears little relation to its literary forebear. It is a modest effort, its best songs at the beginning and end, highlighted by the opening track, "And General Robert E. Lee."

But the 59-year-old Murphy has an unfortunate habit of letting his voice slip into gravel. He speak-sings or gratingly whispers tracks three through eight, with little help from his competent but unspectacular French backing band, before belatedly picking up the tempo and easing the tedium by singing the last three songs.

Murphy's prolificacy may have been his downfall on "Notes," which would have been much better as a five-song EP than as an album. By the time it recovers its momentum with the stunning guitar solo by Murphy's son, Gaspard, in the penultimate "Frankenstein's Daughter," the CD is almost over -- but the prospect of hearing another Elliott Murphy album is more palatable.

Klose is the opposite of Murphy in many ways: Blessed with a melodious voice, he tends toward exuberance whatever the lyric. Klose was born in Germany and raised in Africa, and he's based in New York. His songs' immaculately tasteful orchestration sounds like Eric Matthews crossed with Nick Drake, best of all on the waltz "Doing Time." The arrangements on "Reverie" are by turns jazzy and classical, with frequent piano parts and a dedicated oboist and violinist in the band.

His lyrics tend toward the sort of world-weary, lovesick ennui typical of poets in their mid-20s, and the lush instrumentation only swings, never rocks. Still, Klose overcomes the boredom and wins over the listener with his soaring voice, which may well be a staple of chamber pop for a long time to come.

-- Alexander F. Remington

Appearing Tuesday at the Velvet Lounge (202-462-3213, Doors open at 9 p.m.

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