Shaun Murphy – Flame Still Burns
Vision Wall Records
14 Tracks – 57 minutes
For her tenth album since starting her solo career in 2009, Shaun Murphy wraps her powerhouse voice around fourteen songs that carry listeners from blues to rock music, and all points in-between. Anyone who has heard Murphy sing is well aware of her vocal skills, utilizing a range that most vocalists would trade their souls for without hesitation. When you combine that with meticulous phrasing and the unerring ability to convey the deepest emotions at the heart of a song, there is little doubt Murphy stands in the top rank of blues vocalists.
Listen to her rousing version “Living In The Palace Of the King,” to open the disc, as her rugged, sassy vocal shows no sign of strain as it matches the fiery intensity of her crack band on a song popularized by Freddie King. Then things shift into a slow blues mode as Murphy takes her time on the classic “Sweet Little Angel,” making it abundantly clear that the song can be an anthem for women, too.
Tackling an iconic song like Gregg Allman’s “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” might intimidate many singers but Murphy goes at at full bore with plenty of grit, wrapping things up with a piercing moan over the spirited exchange between her two veteran guitarists, Tommy Stillwell and Kenne Cramer. Stillwell shares the vocal lead on a burning take of “Soul Shake” that calls for higher volume and a bigger dance floor. Another highlight is the way Murphy commands your attention on the ballad “Stay With Me” (not the Rod Stewart hit). She delivers a searing rendition on “Old Love,” a song written by Eric Clapton, who she recorded and toured with in 1985.
The formidable twin guitar attack from Stillwell and Kramer dominate the proceedings on “Love Me Like A Man” until Murphy makes her presence felt with a snarling attitude that leaves no doubt who is in charge. The oft-covered “Little By Little” gets a boost from Eric Robert on the Hammond B3 organ and Kevin McKendree’s rollicking piano foray. Murphy conjures up some whiskey-soaked tones that breathe life into “I Can’t Quit You,” then rocks the house with a blistering cover of “Ain’t Got No Money,” perfectly capturing the essence of Frankie Miller’s hymn on the power of love, with stellar contributions from long-time drummer Tom DelRossi and John Marcus on bass.
The last three tracks offer more highlights, starting with Murphy’s bold declarations on the value of robbing the cradle on Denise LaSalle’s hit, “Man Sized Job”. Elmore James first recorded “Cry For Me Baby,” more recently given a fine cover by the Welch-Ledbetter Connection. Murphy gives the song a subtle, yet powerful treatment that is sparked by a round of taut solos from Stillwell and Cramer.
On the closer, Charlie Rich’s “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave,” Murphy steps into the spotlight and gives one last memorable performance, her voice straining at the edges as she makes it that she is done dealing with her mistreating man.
It is puzzling why an artist with Shaun Murphy’s skills and career achievements has not been a regular on the line-ups for many of the nation’s blues festivals. There are more than a few younger performers, who have yet to come any where near Murphy’s talent level, that are hired for one festival after another. One would think that a singer who has toured with Bob Seger for decades in addition to her work with Clapton would make her an easy sell to festival promoters. And that doesn’t take into account her 15 years as the lead singer for Little Feat!
Hopefully this rockin’ disc will finally get people to pay attention to this marvelous singer. But don’t wait for the festivals to see the light. Murphy and her kick-ass band create an intoxicating brew that renders terms like blues and rock irrelevant. In the end, all you need to know is that it is simply great music. Grab a copy, turn it up, and have a fine time – highly recommended!