Who? We might hear you say as you read the title of which artist this review is about. ‘Oh, must be some new guy, right? Some clean shaven, baseball cap wearing guy who doesn’t know whether he really wants to be a pop singer or Country star, yes?’
What we are talking about here is a new album, the first in fourteen years, from one of Nashville’s most talented writers. Ever hear ‘Are You Gonna Kiss me or Not’ from Thompson Square? ‘The More I Drink’ by Blake Shelton? ‘Little Green Tractor’ from Jason Aldean or even ‘Anywhere with You’ by Jake Owen? Yes, you have. Add in songs recorded by Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Kenny Chesney and Eli Young Band and you’ll have scratched the surface of what David Lee Murphy has been up to these past fourteen years.
As a recording artist in the 90’s Murphy had hits in his own right with songs like ‘Dust on the Bottle’, making him a contemporary of artists like George Strait and Alan Jackson. He released three albums for MCA (who went on to become Universal Music Group) and a fourth and seemingly final album for Koch Records, who would become eOne. In 2004.
And so, fourteen years later, inspired by his writing and work with Kenny Chesney, David Lee Murphy is back with ‘No Zip Code’. Chesney influenced the album in many ways, serving as a producer, buddy and general sounding board. The two artists passed songs back and forth for months, trying to select Murphy’s best compositions to highlight on ‘No Zip Code’
“Over the course of a few years, those were favorites of mine for one reason or the other,” Murphy explains of the chosen 11 songs on No Zip Code. “All of those songs are special for different reasons and I like to listen to them at all different times.”
What you’ll find on this album is a diverse set of Country songs. Sometimes leaning towards the modern, sometimes more traditional yet each one comes wrapped in Murphy’s own trademark ‘seal of approval’ quality songwriting. No lyric is wasted, no rhyme easily deployed just for the cadence of a melody. The whole album reeks of love, care and attention – this isn’t something just hastily thrown together in order to get a guy out on the road and there is no attempt made to pander to radio or to what the current trend is in Nashville, which is somewhat ironic given that lead single, ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, a song released back in November, hit the #1 spot on the charts this month, providing Murphy with his second ever #1 and first since 1995’s ‘Dust on the Bottle’!! The Kenny Chesney factor cannot be denied, as he sings on the song and he has included Murphy in a number of his own shows, but still, what an achievement and one that flies in the face of everything modern Nashville and the charts are seemingly about!
There are a lovely mix of sounds on ‘No Zip Code’ that will appeal to a wide range of listeners. There is the more modern sound of tracks like ‘Way Gone’, which has a moody, chugging guitar feel and the type of infectious chorus that leaves you singing long after the song has finished through to the almost Texan influenced, ‘Voice of Reason’, in which Murphy sings about how, ‘the voice of reason never speaks to me!’
Lead single, ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ is the perfect summer song. Laid back, chilled and breezy – it burrows in and doesn’t let go. Bobby Bones has been championing the song all year and it has paid off. Kenny Chesney sings the second verse and both his and Murphy’s voices are perfect for the vibe of the song. It’s a pool song, it’s a beach song, it’s a driving along the highway with your arm out of the window song, the very personification of Country cool with its modern drum beat and smooth, ‘made for FM radio’ feel.
Guitar features quite heavily on a number of tracks. ‘Haywire’ has a cool, almost 80’s like guitar riff that propels the song forward into its big, sing-a-long chorus whilst ‘Get Go’ sees a darker, moodier riff used to introduce the song: dirtier, more southern sounding, it shares a heritage and DNA with the sort of music being put out there right now by the likes of Blackberry Smoke and The Cadillac Three whilst ‘I Won’t Be Sorry’ brings a lighter, Mellencamp or Petty-esque guitar tone to the mix, no less effective and no less infectious, “I Won’t Be Sorry’ would be a good song to push to radio as single #2 with its summery, up-tempo sound and ‘no regrets’ lyrical stance.
Elsewhere, ‘No Zip Code’ finds Murphy recording some quite traditional sounding Country music. The title track itself sees Murphy singing about wanting to live out in the country, way back away from a gravel road. There’s a sort of Florida Georgia Line feel to the lyrics and the mix of electric guitars and banjo work really well in grounding the song in the dirt of the south. ‘As the Crow Flies’ is the most organic, earthy song on ‘No Zip Code’. It has a real southern beginning and Eagles-esque, ‘Seven Bridges Road’ vocals before Murphy takes the song forward in a mix of picked electric guitars and banjo. Imagine Black Stone Cherry, Kid Rock, Lynyryd Skynyrd and FGL all jamming together and you’ll be somewhere in the vicinity here whilst ‘Winnebago’ throws fiddles into the mix as Murphy strips back his sound to an almost acoustic level as he sings about getting away and living in a more simple way on a road trip.
‘No Zip Code’ finishes with another potential single, ‘Waylon and Willie (and a Bottle of Jack)’ which is a smooth, very polished song about looking back to a previous relationship. Nostalgia is big right now in Nashville and Murphy employs a kind of 80’s guitar sound, which is, thanks to TV shows like ‘Stranger Things’, also in vogue right now. ‘We went to heaven, we went to Texas, we did some living, that’s a fact, with Waylon and Willie and a bottle of Jack,’ he sings towards the end of the track, bringing the album to a close with one of its strongest songs played out over a nice, elongated guitar outro.
‘No Zip Code’ is characterized by quality from beginning to end. Quality songwriting, quality playing, quality singing. There’s a depth to it that is often missing from modern Country releases right now. When Murphy sings about something you know damn well he believes it, there’s no bullshit here. No rubbish about a lifestyle that he hasn’t lived. He is an authentic songwriter who happens to have a knack for an amazing chorus and an ability to operate across the whole range of southern music, from the border sound of Texas through to the swamps of the south via the cosmopolitan sheen of urban Nashville – it’s all here. It may have taken him fourteen years to record an album but it was well worth the wait – let’s just hope we won’t have to wait that long again for the follow up!