In her book The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication, author Margaret Shepherd optimistically opines: “The handwritten note is not going to die out just because some of its everyday functions have been taken over by e-mail and voicemail. Adapting to the needs of every fresh generation, it continues to connect people.” The same could be said for the ancient archetype of the troubadour, especially as seized by Poughkeepsie singer-songwriter Shane Murphy, whose handwritten press release is anachronistically worded and whose intimate, captivating debut Loose Strife / Tight Grief proudly bears aural fingerprints and breath smudges. Clearly, the thickening stew of technology-rich culture has done little to stop the creation of fine tintype songwriting.
“Fortress-Strong” opens this 11-song collection with expertly wrought, cascading imagery of wild dogs, pocket lint, and “an eyesore of diamonds.” Like Bob Dylan giving props to Ginsberg and Van Morrison to Blake, Adirondacks-raised Murphy cites as influences fellow Northeasterners Frost and Whitman, weaving poetically resonant, often wintry vistas in which to set emotional struggles of loss (“Procession”), doubt (“Systematic”), ecstasy (“Glass Floor”), and protest (“Pack of Wolves”).
As Loose Strife / Tight Grief spools out, stylistic vocal nods abound; Tim Buckley’s elastic, acrobatic croon; Antony Hegarty’s dramatic quaver; Scott Walker’s burnished baritone. Deft acoustic guitar work provides the bedrock throughout, with occasional atmospheric background brushstrokes of tabla, melodica, soft piano, and keening electric guitar. Antecedents aplenty, but the vision and delivery are idiosyncratic and completely Murphy’s own; a welcome, refreshingly original take on the unvanquished troubadour. www.myspace.com/shanejmurphy.