Listening to “Worried Man Blues,” the banjo- and mandolin-spiced opening track of Elliott Murphy’s umpteenth excellent album, you might think you’re in for his version of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions. Wrong. Murphy’s cover of this traditional number, good as it is, turns out to be rather atypical of a mostly hard-rocking program.
That starts to become clear with “Angeline,” the second track, which features a strong beat and a touch of falsetto in the extended fadeout. Other highlights include the talked-sung “Murphyland,” which offers a smile-inducing look at the singer’s version of Utopia; “I Am Empty,” with backing vocals by Patti Scialfa and sensational lead guitar by longtime band member Olivier Durand; and “Eternal Highway,” a catchy, countrified anthem about life on the road—and life itself.
As usual with Murphy, the lyrics mix hope with despair, humor with cynicism. As he sings in “Then You Start Crying,” “Life is beautiful but the world can be hell.” Or, as he puts it in the liner notes, “In spite of everything, from the music business to the sun burning out in a billion years, hope springs eternal.” I’m glad, and this cleverly written, hook-filled collection makes me gladder.