BRATTLEBORO — Poetry of history and traditional songs arranged with contemporary elements make up Keith Murphy's newest recording, "Land of Fish and Seals," due to be showcased in a CD release concert in the Brattleboro Music Center's auditorium on Sunday, May 13. The CD is a song-based recording accompanied by acoustic mandolin, guitar, pump organ, fiddle, mandola and an occasional jaw harp, banjo and cello, all of traditional and traditional-inspired songs mostly from Canada with an emphasis on more recently composed pieces written by the likes of Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson.
Murphy grew up with traditional music in his native Newfoundland where it was very popular. He was further influenced by Martin Carthy, a prominent singer-guitarist of British traditional music, as were Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Launching a career in traditional music, he was drawn to New England because of its strong contra dance scene and he saw what was happening in the '80s, a wild fusion of traditional music in a creative scene.
He and his wife, fiddler Becky Tracy, with whom he often performs with as a duo, came to Brattleboro because it had already become a hub for traditional music attracting many musicians even then. For the last 25 years, he has had many admirable accomplishments including founding Brattleboro Music Center's Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival in 2008. The festival celebrates Irish, Scottish English, French Canadian, related genres of the Northern hemisphere. He is also a faculty member of BMC, he wrote the music for Sandglass Theatre's production of "All Weather Ballads" in 2010. He has written songs for Ken Burns' series on the "Roosevelts," written lots of fiddle tunes that have been published with a few that may be heard at a contra dance, he was a featured performer in the Boston Revels 2016 Christmas show and he is the music director for the WGBH Boston public radio's annual Celtic Sojourn St. Partick's Day concerts held at Sander's Theater and elsewhere in New England. He even tried his hand in a bit of acting in the folk operetta, "The Life of Dudley Laufman," a one-man show based on an interview with Laufman he played alongside Tracy and Larry Siegel at Next Stage, planning a repeat performance in Maine on May 20.
He was active in the contra dancing scene until seven or eight years ago when he refocused his energies on his own songs and solo projects. Straying a bit from the traditional, he likes to take shape-note songs, meant to be a four-part harmony, and adapt them to sing solo.
"I've taken some of these shape-note songs, sung with my own text with those pretty melodies," he said
When doing a project he gets his inspiration from certain traditional singers and draws form tunes he has played before. He listens to his heroes like local musician Tony Barrand who has been Murphy's inspiration for many years.
In 2009 Murphy collaborated on a number of songs with Barrand for the songbook "On the Banks of Coldbrook: The Singing Atwoods of West Dover, and Mansfield, Conn." They were so pleased with the results that in 2010 they produced a CD of their favorites called "On the Banks of Coldbrook: Atwood Family Songs from the Hills of Vermont."
"The Land of Fish and Seals" is Murphy's third solo album. The cover song comes straight from Murphy's roots. The words to "Land of Fish and Seals" is a poem he found in a history book of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery written by Margaret Peace, a Scottish immigrant to Newfoundland, Murphy's motherland, that he set to music.
In total there are 10 songs on the CD, sung in English and in French, sung solo and with special guests including Rani Arbo (harmony), Hanneke Cassel (fiddle), Mike Block (cello) , Yann Falquet (harmony and guitar), Pascal Gemme (harmony and feet) Mark Roberts (banjo) and Becky Tracy (fiddle and octave fiddle). Includes Beeswing (Thompson), Crossing the Bar (Tennyson/ Arbo) and Land of Fish and Seals (Peace/ Murphy).
At the CD release concert at BMC Murphy said, "I will focus all of my energy performing this music. It will be special because Becky will perform with me."
BMC described Murphy as "A highly respected traditional singer, Murphy's direct and intimate style of singing brings the focus back to the beauty of traditional songs and ballads from French Canada and Keith's native Newfoundland, as well as more recently composed songs inspired by Anglo-American traditional song. His masterful guitar work has influenced a generation of younger players and his song work creates a rich palette of textures using multiple open tunings and rhythmic ideas."
The CD release concert on Sunday is at 7 p.m. in the BMC Auditorium, 72 Blanche Moyse Way. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased in advance at bmcvt.org or reserved to be held at the door until 15 minutes prior to start time of the event.
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261