Putnam Murdock is an Americana singer/songwriter from South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, although his work has strong influence from blues, country, folk and rock n’ roll music. Why all the division and labelling, anyways? Being that it’s part of our accepted intellectual process, it’s necessary. After all, we need something to “say” if we’re going to talk about music, something that doesn’t require conversation. But I digress. Putnam’s new album “Brand New Window” was released in October 2011, and it was recorded live — a bold move. Co-written by songwriter Tom J. Carlisle and recorded with musicians David Cieri, Jordan Scannella, Jay Frederick and Bryan Pugh, this is his third album.
With a very blues-driven verse and an Americana chorus, Putnam shows a calm versatility and a respect for the song in the easy to enjoy “Wages of Hope”. Minimal percussion and a slide guitar that mimics the soft but urgent vocals and lyrics make this a “gather around the storyteller” type affair. You can always tell a seasoned songwriter by how much space they leave in their music — how much they allow the story to be told. Musically, the sound is unassuming and seemingly without ego. “The Promise” leads with a piano line shifting into a shuffle beat, where Putnam adopts a slightly different singer’s accent sounding influenced by very early era Tom Waits. Free flow lyrics and letting the poetry do its own thing suit him just fine, and the piano solo really takes the song up another level.
“Marshlands” is a slowly crawling, very subtle ballad with brilliant lyrics about “being where you are” rather than idealizing life endlessly and self-medicating with philosophy, beliefs, despair or hope. “I’m just here and the view is fine”, Murdock seems to say with his lyrical theme. The music is subtle enough to potentially fall into the background should people talk over it, but if you listen closely enough, this is once again, disciplined songwriting at work, and it does only what it needs to. In Buddhism this would be called a “mindful” song perhaps, and it’s the subtlely that makes it special. “When I Die” begins with the lyrics “When I die could you bury me so I could keep good company. It’s not as lonely as it seems. My dear, I’ll see you in your dreams.” Very potent and beautiful, and I don’t know if I can expand on that.
“Brand New Widow” changes the pace with atmospheric keys and a restrained falsetto. “Butcher Dogs” throws some Beatles influence, some jazz, and some lounge for good measure, and once again the narrator has changed his tune. The Tom Waits influence is here again to the artists great credit. Other moments on this release that grabbed me were the bluesy and full of personality “California Song” which maintains the laid-back feel but with a small dose of attitude, and the angelic “Eramun”, with sports some U2/The Edge type atmospheres to back up Putnam’s soulful vocals.
Putnam Murdock strikes me as a strong artist for many reasons, the most rare being that his expression is free of the shackles of ego that most artists are completely lost in. With this being taken care of, the music and lyrics themselves become vehicles for change. “Brand New Window” is a beautiful album that I would recommend to fans of Paul Simon, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, and John Prine.
James Moore @ firstname.lastname@example.org