Kaz Murphy | Home for Misfits (s/r)

cd_kazThe songs here aren't retro, they're timeless—but not in a classic way. This album will never be irrelevant, but it won't ever really fit, either.

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of things would make this album better: braver production, a livelier band, or a time machine. While it isn't particularly bad, SXSW sweetheart Kaz Murphy's latest effort sounds like a lighthearted folk record that should have come out 45 years ago.

Of the truly classic American albums to come out in the last 15 or 20 years, almost all of them have been laced with subtle hints of modernity. Home for Misfits avoids such hints. Had it been released in the first half of the '60s, this album would be a great find in a used vinyl bin. The songs here aren't retro, they're timeless—but not in a classic way. This album will never be irrelevant, but it won't ever really fit, either.

But maybe that's what Murphy is going for. He did write the songs, after all. Listening to this album, it's clear that Murphy and his crew (which includes Fountains of Wayne drummer Brian Young) are having fun. Not so much fun that they're expressing it through interesting musicianship, but just enough to get them into the studio every day. Everyone playing with Murphy on this album is a competent musician, unfortunately, they sound like a bland session band instead of the group of friends they really are.

And what collaboration of a middle-aged songwriter and his friends would be complete without jokes in the songs? Murphy adds humor to his songs, but he lacks the wit of John Prine and the snark of Scott McCaughey. All too often the comedy sounds forced, making the jokes fall flat and reducing one or two songs to novelties that aren't really worth a second listen.

But if there's one thing every fun-loving musician over 40 could learn from Kaz Murphy, it's that ballads are almost entirely unnecessary at this point. Home for Misfits isn't a collection of raucous country barnstormers, but it never slows down or gets too self-absorbed. There are occasional splashes of liberal politics, but not enough to group Murphy in with the "Vote for Change" tour crowd.

All in all, Kaz Murphy is an Americana coffeehouse singer and not too much else. He's fairly talented, he knows his audience, and he doesn't try to be anything he clearly isn't. While to many this album will smack of mediocrity, those who enjoy anything folkie or the last decade of Elvis Costello will likely be satisfied. After listening to this album, I got the feeling that Murphy would be great to see live. Not because of his pleasant voice or mellow guitar playing, but because it seems like he would have great stage banter, in spite of the lackluster humor in his songs. C | Gabe Bullard

RIYL: John Prine, Minus 5, later Elvis Costello

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