Trish Murphy

Trish Murphy ::

It’s fortunate record stores haven’t taken all that “women in rock” hype seriously enough to create a separate section for female artists. Doolittle/Mercury recording artist Trish Murphy would certainly be misfiled, having more in common with straightshooters and storytellers like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Rubies on the Lawn is the nationally released follow-up to Murphy’s debut Crooked Mile, which was released on the independent label she founded in 1997. With Murphy overseeing her own distribution, marketing and Internet site, Crooked Mile sold 10,000 copies and took her well beyond her adopted hometown of Austin, Texas.

While still an unsigned artist, Murphy performed on nationally syndicated radio programs such as World Cafe, Mountain Stage and New York City’s legendary Idiot’s Delight, hosted by Vin Scelsa. After licensing Crooked Mile for foreign distribution, Murphy toured Europe twice and played on Dutch national television and radio. This summer she will return as a veteran to Lilith Fair, having toured for a week on last year’s bill. She also will return to Milwaukee’s Summerfest and Birmingham’s City Stages and will make her first appearance in Seattle at the Bumbershoot Festival.

Regarding her approach to lyrics, Murphy says “To me, the challenge is to evoke as many images as possible with as few words as possible.” While she generally prefers to write alone, she was inspired to write the vividly detailed “Sunday” from a poem written by her next-door neighbor, a SWAT team detective. She reworked his words into lyrics and set them to a surprisingly lovely melody. “The music has that sort of lullaby quality,” Murphy says, “and that’s not at all what the lyrics are speaking about, but it was a nice contrast — that music and then that sort of bloody, gory story.” Murphy is also conscious of the aesthetic properties of words. She notes that when she first wrote “Vanilla Sun,” the story was going in a different direction than she wanted. “But I was digging the sound of the vowels, so I kept all the vowel sounds and changed all the words.” Murphy doesn’t perform tricks with her strong, sweet, slightly dusky voice. The songs on Rubies on the Lawn reveal both a gift for melody and the ability to sketch full portraits or distill complex emotions with just a few lines. The percussive phrases in “Johnny Too Blue” capture the violent tension in a Vietnam vet who “couldn’t really look back, never really came back.” Murphy’s sharp wit gives a vinegary edge to the power-pop confection “I Know What You Are.” The bright harmonies in the catchy chorus contrast with the bleak observation: “It’s probably just as well that I don’t understand you at all.”

Murphy is the rare songwriter whose musical ambitions received strong support at home. Her father, a struggling musician and songwriter, taught his three children to sing background harmonies for him when they were preschoolers. Although he eventually had to take jobs in construction to make a living, the family kept its bohemian values even when obliged to live in a series of small Southern refining towns. At one point, Murphy says, she rebelled against her colorful background by trying to take a more conventional path. “That didn’t last very long,” she recalls with a laugh. While Murphy was working her way through college, her dad encouraged her to get gigs to support herself, rather than pursue the proverbial something-to-fall-back-on. After receiving a B.A. in philosophy, Murphy decided to turn down a job offer and fall back on music as a full-time career. “Rubies on the Lawn” will make old and new fans alike glad that she has chosen to devote all her energies to music.



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