James Murdoch may have cut his musical teeth in Whitehorse, but he found his rhythm in Edmonton.
The turn of the millennium saw Murdoch and collaborator Steve Kozmeniuk entertaining Yukon youth with clever lyrics and high-adrenaline, guitar-driven melodies.
Both have forged successful careers since the days of playing high school gyms and recording in bedroom studios. Kozmeniuk fronts the energetic alternative band Boy, and Murdoch, who now calls Edmonton home, has just released his third solo album, In Transit, available on the Montreal-based Indica/Aquarius Records label.
This is a strong and ambitious album that Murdoch says took him three attempts to release.
It was worth the wait.
In Transit is reminiscent of material from the likes of Blue Rodeo and the generation-spanning anchor of Canadian rock musicana, The Band.
Inspired by his travels and performances in such venues as Spain, New York and the Yukon, Murdoch has offered up a satisfying disk.
The lyrics are well crafted, catchy and reflect a purposeful progression towards maturity in this artist’s career.
The instrumentation and musicianship are outstanding, and his vocals have an infectious quality that suits the pop genre.
Of course, the fact that he managed to snag the magical touch of internationally renowned producer Hawksley Workman, has helped to make this album stick in your head the more you listen to it.
Workman has been integral to the successes of Sarah Slean, Teagan and Sara, Serena Ryder and Vancouver’s chart-climbing sensation, Jeremy Fisher.
In a news release, Murdoch, a longtime fan of Workman, says that when he heard the producer wanted to work with him, he knew that a great album would be the outcome.
However, this was a project that almost didn’t make it to the shelves.
After three attempts to record in different settings with different songs, Murdoch says it finally came on track when he and Workman teamed up in the studio. As a result, there isn’t a weak track on this album.
Along with Workman’s expertise at the mixing board, he is also featured on drums, guitar and vocals. In Transit also boasts celebrity guest performers Gary Craig (Bruce Cockburn, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings), Stew Crookes, who plays pedal steel for Matt and Jill Barber, legendary drummer Gary Craig, and Toronto-based saxophonist Richard Underhill of Shuffle Demons fame.
Murdoch’s growth is evident, and to spotlight any one song over another is challenging. But there are a few worth mentioning.
The album’s single, Get What You Deserve, is a guitar-powered introspection that speaks of regret over lost opportunities, and the chances we must take to see our dreams come true.
Transportation laments the inability to apply the brakes to life’s ever-increasing pace. The message is driven home, so to speak, through dynamic drum work and pulsing bass lines.
Goodnight and Blindsided are tracks where Murdoch shows off not only his evolving lyrical prowess, but also proves that he is capable of carrying a song without loads of backup.
Lift You Up has a buoyant, live concert feel to it. Backed by solid rhythm and guitar work, it makes you want to get up and dance.
Give Me Your Love is a quirky pop song that is gaining some airtime. It opens with the line “You are a dangerous distraction,” and is pushed along by lively guitar action and punchy horns to a rousing conclusion. The chorus is snappy, and if you weren’t head-bopping when it started, you will be before it’s over.
Murdoch has been on quite the journey since leaving the Yukon.
He was severely beaten in a random attack in Vancouver, changed record labels and formed his own studio, The Norwood.
He has also filled the producer’s role on albums from Edmonton’s alternative rock band Wheat Pool, and Portland, Oregon’s, Amy Seeley.
In Transit follows the success of his two other solo albums, Polyphonic in 2001, and Between the Lines in 2003. Polyphonic received nominations at the 2002 West Coast Music Awards, and landed Outstanding Pop Recording from Prairie Music Week.
The videos for both hit singles from Between the Lines, Believe and Break Me Down, were featured on Much More Music and MTV Canada, and can still be seen on You Tube.
Murdoch says he is presently planning a show for Whitehorse sometime in the spring.
As a growing musical force with a promising future, Murdoch’s In Transit is aptly named.
Wyatt Tremblay is jack-of-all-trades at the Yukon News.