Singer/pianist Willie Murphy is the kind of artist for whom the term "cult hero" was invented. His career began with a bang back in 1969, when he partnered with guitarist "Spider" John Koerner to make the head-turning psychedelic Americana album Running, Jumping, Standing Still
for Elektra. With his group Willie & the Bumble Bee he backed Bonnie Raitt
and became a blues-rockin' journeyman. With 40 years of hard roads behind him, Murphy sounds as energized as ever on this double album. Not merely a double-length release, this package is really two separate albums, each with their own title, cover, and agenda. Up front is A Shot of Love in a Time of Need
, a collection of funky, R&B-based tunes, including both covers and Murphy's own songs. On the flipside -- literally -- is Autobiographical Notes
, a collection of tunes Murphy's had kicking around for a while but couldn't find a home for until now, mostly because of the varied styles they encompass.
Murphy comes out with all guns blazing on the first disc, unleashing a visceral piano style that seems to get in between the cracks in the keyboard, and a gritty, soul-slathered vocal delivery that's perhaps best triangulated somewhere in the middle of Leon Russell
, Jim Dickinson
, and Dr. John
. He's capable of bringing life even to an overdone tune like " Land of 1000 Dances," and his original tunes stand up alongside the R&B classics he covers. The second disc is a hodge-podge of honky-tonk, folk-rock ballads, soul, and Band
-esque roots rock, plus a bluesy cover of Fred Neil
's "The Dolphins" thrown in for good measure. If Autobiographical Notes
isn't as consistent as its funkier partner, that's part of its eccentric, ragtag charm; whatever mode it finds Murphy in, it portrays him accurately as a true American original doing his thing out there in the margins of the music biz, where a man can really get his mojo working.