Skip to Content Skip to Navigation


LJ Murphy Loses a Keyboardist But Wins the Audience
by delarue
There was a sad undercurrent to LJ Murphy‘s ferocious show Saturday night at the Parkside: pianist Patrick McLellan is leaving for St. Louis. As Brooklyn gets more and more gentrified, the brain drain continues. Murphy never has to look far for top-level talent for his band – McLellan’s predecessor, since relocated to New Orleans, wasWillie Davis – but this is a major loss to the New York music scene. McLellan took out all the packing and pulling-up-roots stress on the piano keys. The most intense number of the night was Mad Within Reason, which at its lurid core is a Weimar blues strut: McLellan flung jazz tropes like three-on-four rhythms and jaggedly atonal, jackhammer chords into the mix. The best song of the night was probably Fearful Town, where McLellan and guitarist Tommy Hoscheid gently and elegantly exchanged creepy, lingering noir tonalities as Murphy drew a morosely surreal portrait of a post-Giuliani East Village of tourist traps and the grotesqueries who congregate there.
Murphy’s new drummer Jacob Cavell was a good match for McLellan, with his counterintuitive flair and jazz flourishes: he’s a good addition to the band. With McLellan’s icepick intensity and Hoscheid’s blend of Stax/Volt and Memphis licks, the fact that the band didn’t have a bass player (Nils Sorensen on tour with his other band, popular Americana roots band Brothers Moving) didn’t matter. Meanwhile, Murphy put down his guitar and crooned through a stern, severe version of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue into a deviously puckish take of Stormy Monday and then back. The catchy new wave jangle of Imperfect Strangers, the plaintive Muscle Shoals groove of Comfortable Cage and the deceptively upbeat, anthemic Pretty for the Parlor – a deliciously twisted Long Island serial killer ballad – were also in the mix. Since his legendary two-year residency at the old C-Note a few blocks further north, Murphy has typically played at least one Saturday night show in the neighborhood every month: watch this space.

Noir Rock Par Excellence from LJ Murphy and His Band

LJ Murphy and the Accomplices ripped the roof off Otto's on Saturday night. The dark lyrical rocker has had an eclectic cast of musical conspirators backing him over the years, and these guys are among the best. Although their licks and the chops are purist vintage Stax/Volt, the energy is pure punk rock. The key to this particular show was that lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid had his old Gibson SG instead of an acoustic, which brought the energy level through the roof and took everybody with him, so when Murphy put down his own guitar, it didn't really matter. Grabbing the mic with both hands, he twitched and pounced like a man possessed - or like a young James Brown. Dressed to the nines in his usual black porkpie hat, black suit and a lurid purple tie, he alternated between an ominous baritone croon and a nonplussed, bluesy shout as he skewered the corporate elite, the clueless minions who buy into their evil system and assorted other hypocrites. He and the band are going into the studio in a couple of weeks, an auspicious development because this kind of power deserves to be bottled.

They opened the set with a careening, unexpectedly upbeat version of Mad Within Reason. The title track to Murphy's most recent album, it's a Weimar blues on record, transformed live into a raw, swaying anthem replete with typically surreal Murphy imagery: "They saddled the mistress and lowered her down...crosses and pistols are slung from our hips...the industry captain, a smile on his face, so proud of the changes he's made to this place..." Bassist Nils Sorensen's tasty hammer-ons drove a soul-rock version of the cruelly sarcastic Imperfect Strangers, pianist Patrick McLellan ripping down the scale with a jarring series of chords when it came to the punchline. By contrast, This Is Nothing Like Bliss lurched apprehensively, a big, ornate soul ballad with a tantalizing handful of wailing accents from Hoscheid. McLellan took centerstage on the enigmatic, bitter Another Lesson I Never Learned, building from slashing staccato triplets into a mean chromatic run down the scale: "Like the manuscript that refused to burn, here's another lesson I never learned," Murphy intoned, defiant til the end.

Nowhere Now mixed a surf rock intro, Chuck Berry, a crazed Mike Bloomfield-style solo from Hoscheid and an offhandedly snide, inscrutable lyric that might be an elegy for 200 years of American democracy, or something else entirely. The highest point of the night might have been Same Trick, an irresistibly funky Stax/Volt shuffle propelled by drummer Marcus Ulrich, the crowd in the lyrics longing for the messiah but eventually settling for a CEO. Or, it might have been the encore, Happy Hour, a savage rip at the one percent and those who enable them, set in the Wall Street bar from hell: "Down in the wicked industries that are so celebrated now...where they tie you up with invisible string, and the karaoke singer sounds just like the real thing." For that matter, it also could have been the slowly burning soul ballad Bovine Brothers, a warning to anyone paying attention:

The calm has finally settled and the air is sickly sweet

The ashes of the moviehouse are scattered in the street

The uncles and the nephews drink to victory in the bars

And a sermon blares out all night from the roof of a radio car

As they launched into that lyric, they brought it way down, McLellan bringing it back up at the end with a twistedly glimmering, mini-Moonlight Sonata. They also burned through a characteristically amusing, sneering version of Barbed Wire Playpen - another sendup of a CEO, this one who can't resist the lure of the dungeon - with the audience spontaneously bursting into Donna Susan's sassy backing vocal line on the chorus. Through the burnt-out Rust Belt imagery of Buffalo Red, the barely restrained eroticism of Blue Silence and the sardonic post doo-wop of Man Impossible, these guys reaffirmed that they might be the best rock band in New York right now. "She's polishing her reputation/Can't believe all that you hear/What she doesn't know can't hurt her/So she hasn't very much to fear," Murphy sang with a cold nonchalance. These days, with the center having completely collapsed, the New York music scene completely balkanized, shows like this beg the question: how many others like LJ Murphy are steaming up places like Otto's on a Saturday night when where they really should be is Madison Square Garden?

Review Of November 20th Show At Banjo Jim's


LJ Murphy and Willie Davis Tear Up Banjo Jim’s

Last night was New Orleans pianist Willie Davis’ last gig with LJ Murphy for a while – at least til Murphy gets down to Louisiana for some shows there. It figures – the buzz in the audience afterward was that in the year-and-a-half or so they’ve played together, this was their best show. Murphy kicked it off with his usual thousand-yard stare, shuffling Chuck Berry style out into the audience. He didn’t do the splits, but maybe that’s the next step. The New York noir rocker was in rare form, even for someone whose stage presence is notoriously intense. It brought to mind the famous incident where Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Rex Barney, who’d just walked a bunch of guys, received a visit on the mound from Burt Shotton. When Barney didn’t even acknowledge his manager’s presence, Shotton was angry at first, but then realized that Barney was so intently focused on the game that he was essentially in a trance. So when the crowd clapped along with the stately Weimar pulse of Mad Within Reason – which Davis had kicked off with a neatly ominous, rubato blues piano intro – Murphy didn’t seem to notice.
Like the oldschool jazz and blues players Murphy so obviously admires, there’s no telling what his songs are going to sound like from one show to another. The defiant Another Lesson I Never Learned used to be a hypnotic Velvet Underground style rock song; this time out, he’d reinvented it as a snaky, slashing minor-key blues. On Skeleton Key, the surprisingly sympathetic account of a stalker who doesn’t seem to know he is one, Murphy took it down very quietly at the end where the poor guy “received a letter from the courthouse yesterday: if I even try to talk to you, they’re gonna put me straight away.” Davis’ richly wistful chords gave the bitter lost-weekend chronicle Saturday’s Down a stunningly sad soulfulness; Murphy wound up a swinging boogie version of the surreal, menacing Nowhere Now with a furious whirl of guitar chord-chopping. But the best numbers were the newest: the vividly evocative Edward Hopperesque overnight scenes of the bluesy countrypolitan ballad Waiting by the Lamppost for You (originally written for Cal Folger Day), and a fiery, indomitable version of the anti-gentrifier broadside Fearful Town, its perplexed narrator “sitting on a bonfire in a night that never ends,” where “grandmothers go dancing in high heels and castanets.” For anyone who misses the old, more dangerous and vastly more entertaining New York as much as Murphy does, it struck a nerve. The duo closed with a brisky bouncing version of Barbwire Playpen, a characteristically savage chronicle of a hedge fund type who can’t resist the allure of the dungeoness: it could have been written for Eliot Spitzer.
After a long pause, an excellent accordion/clarinet/cello trio played klezmer, Balkan and Middle Eastern-flavored material: it would have been nice to have been able to stick around for their whole set (and it would have been nice if Banjo Jims’ calendar listing for the show hadn’t disappeared so we could find out who they were). Up the block and around the corner, Spanking Charlene were kicking off frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s annual birthday show at Lakeside: the place was packed, and the band was smoking or so it seemed. All the gentrifiers haven’t driven good music of the East Village, at least not yet.

- Lucidculture (Nov 21, 2010)
L.J. Murphy, Daniel Harnett, the Just Desserts, the Whistlin' Wolves, Groovalaya

Banjo Jim's
700 E. 9th St., (212) 777-0869
Saturday Nov. 20, 2010

This Avenue C club always offers a packed lineup on weekend nights—and most weeknights, too—but this one is particularly appealing. L.J. Murphy is a storyteller with a gift for folk blues and an unexpected turn of phrase, while Daniel Harnett offers timeless folk that swings. Both singer-songwriters have earnest deliveries that give their songs an appealing immediacy. The duo Just Desserts does more than explore world music—it weaves it deep into its compositions. With Lisa Shawley on accordion, flute and piano, and Michael Shay on cello, banjo, guitar and vibraphone, the sound skits across African, Balkan, Indian, Latin and Americana musical landscapes, with a touch of blues, klezmer and tango tossed into the mix. The duo's new album, "La Valentina," is a joy. The Whistlin' Wolves play high-spirited, old-timey Americana and feature Emily Eagen, a world-class whistler, and Trip Henderson, who blows the daylights out of the harmonica. Guitarist Fausto Bozza leads Groovalaya, a quintet that swings the blues. The fun begins at 7 p.m. and with no cover charge, you get all this music at the cost of only one drink per set.

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

April 25, 2010

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

- Lucidculture (Apr 25, 2010)

Our November 2015 show at Sidewalk NYC was listed as one of the 100 Best of the year by New York Music Daily!


LJ Murphy & the Accomplices and MacMcCarty & the Kidd Twist Band at Sidewalk, 11/6/15

Murphy has defined New York noir for a long time – and now he’s gone electric, with searing results. McCarty has more of a Celtic folk-rock edge and equally haunting, politically-fueled story-songs.

Delarue - New York Music Daily

LJ Murphy Brings His Feral Stage Show and Visionary Lyricism Back to the East Village


by delarue

Great musicians reinvent themselves every so often. Bowie did it, and Elvis Costello has done it a few times as well. And so has.LJ Murphy, who is the closest thing New York has to either of those songwriters these days. The Bowie influence isn’t really obvious, although Murphy’s songs have a surrealistic side. The Costello influence is something Murphy has deliberately muted over the past few years, although lyrically speaking, the two share a fondness for irresistible puns, double and triple entendres and a defiant, sometimes venomously anti-authoritarian sensibility. Where Costello these days is a suave elder statesman, Murphy is a ferociously charismatic showman. What’s new in Murphy’s music is that these days, he’s fronting a band with three electric guitars, taking an already high-voltage sound to new heights of intensity. He’s bringing his megawatt show to a Saturday night East Village gig at Sidewalk on Nov 12 at 8 PM. As a bonus, Mac McCarty‘s new Spoon River Anthology-inspired folk noir band, Abraham’s River, play afterward at 9 with Walter Ego – as good a songwriter as anybody else on this bill – probably doing his typical multi-instrumentalist thing on bass, piano and lead guitar.

Over the years, Murphy has fronted an eclectic series of groups, ranging from catchy, new wave-influenced janglerock to volcanic electric blues. Although there were some brilliant lineups behind him in the mid-zeros – the version of his group, The Accomplices, with the crushingly swinging rhythm section of Josh Belknap on drums and Andrew Plonsky on bass, comes to mind – the current lineup may be the best of all of them. And as explosive as this unit is, Murphy has lately been opening and closing his shows solo acoustic. It’s kind of a macho thing, as if to say, “Yeah, this band is great, but these songs don’t need a band.” Last time out, he opened with the haunting, minor-key Fearful Town, an understatedly savage portrait of East Village tourist trap hell, and closed with the similarly poignant Saturday’s Down, a 6/8 soul ballad set in McCarren Park in Williamsburg back in the days when it really was populated with cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs.

The time before that Murphy played a brief acoustic set in tandem with his multi-instrumentalist not-so-secret weapon, Tommy Hoscheid, who’s as likely to break out his tenor sax as he is to fire off a vintage Memphsi soul solo on electric guitar, or accompany the band on piano. The time before that – yeah, this guy’s worth seeing three times over the course of a summer – Murphy opened with Saturday’s Down and closed with the ominously aphoristic noir blues cautionary tale Geneva Conventional.

But the funnest parts of those shows were when the band was really cooking. Hoscheid and Dylan Treadwell on guitars, Murphy rocking his vintage Gibson hollowbody, the kinetically tuneful Quinn Murphy (no relation) towering over the rest of the group on bass and Jacob Kavell on drums. Together they blasted through the punked-out Stax/Volt of Happy Hour – a crushingly funny portrait of Wall Street happy hour dysfunction that anybody who’s ever spent time in the belly of the beast down there can relate to. They shuffled propulsively through the menace of another soul-inflected number, Panic City and its evocation of post-9/11 paranoia and post-3/11 horror, quite possibly the most relevant song written by any rock writer in the past fifteen years. They swung gently through the brooding cautionary tale Sleeping Mind, a poignant evocation of terminal depression, and romped through more upbeat numbers like the jangly, sardonic Damaged Goods, the enigmatically crescendoing Nowhere Now, the drunk dream sequences in the decaying Rust Belt noir of Buffalo Red and the explosively bouncy Blue Silence. As seemingly every song wound up, Murphy reached for the rafters with the headstock of his guitar, chopping at his chords like an axe murderer until the rest of his accomplices joined him. As far as feral, unleashed energy is concerned, there’s nobody in town these days who can touch this guy. If raw adrenaline is your thing, miss this show at your peril.

DeLarue - New York Music Daily (Oct, 2016)