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CD reviews of The Ernies, Chris Smither and Jimmy Murphy

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The Ernies, "Meson Ray"Chris Smither, "Drive You Home Again"Jimmy Murphy, "Electricity"
Play These Songs"UFO Attack""Trippin' Over You""New Jazz Fiddle"

Real Audio Required -->The Ernies, "Meson Ray" (Mojo Records) — Richmond natives The Ernies don't like to have their sound labeled. But unfortunately for them, they sound a lot like Rage Against The Machine and 311. Heavy guitars, snarling vocals, pounding drums, scratching records, even Rage's signature announcerlike samples, it's all there on "Meson Ray," The Ernies' first major-label release. Fortunately, The Ernies did decide to throw some ska into their hard-rock, hip-hop mix, but it's just not quite enough.

As catchy and anger-infused as is "Polarized," the opening track, one realizes it's just a rip-off of Rage's "Bomb Track." The first single, "Here and Now," echoes 311's "Don't Stay Home" until a brief horn interlude at the end. Infusing more ska sound would benefit these tunes. The bright groove on this otherwise played disc comes on track seven, "It's Digestible." It opens with bouncing ska horns, layered with scratching beats and a humorous 1950s-type announcer repeating the title throughout the song. "It's digestible, it's just another vegetable."

If you like heavy rock with a hip-hop influence you may want to check out The Ernies live. Their upbeat sound is bound to make for an enjoyable evening. But if you're looking for a more skillfully produced album, you might as well reach for a Rage or 311 disc. — Carrie Nieman

Play These Songs"Via Chicago""A Shot In The Arm""Nothing'server gonastandinmyway(again)"

Real Audio Required -->Chris Smither, "Drive You Home Again" (Hightone Records) — Veteran folkie songwriter Chris Smither's new release is a gentle monster. The project overflows with world-weary but wise grooves that simply seep into a listener's soul. Generally, various smoky combinations of sax, lap steel, bass and clarinet surround Smither's deft acoustic picking and soft, husky voice. Wailing harmonicas and guitars occasionally weave through the mix but never intrude. Notable exceptions are Smither's easy-rolling arrangement of "Duncan and Brady" where Riley Osbourn's barroom keyboards drive the song, the artfully restrained steel on "Steel Guitar," and the South-of-the-Border accordion that flavors "Tell Me Why You Love Me." But even the upbeat songs pour from the speakers with a quiet intensity that keeps "Drive" in a peaceful pocket. Recorded in Austin in December 1998 and produced by Stephen Bruton, this CD is for those times when all one really needs is a tranquil musical hand to hold. — Ames Arnold



Play These Songs"Song For Renee (Gate's Tune)""When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again""Take Me Back To Tulsa"

Real Audio Required -->Jimmy Murphy, "Electricity" (Sugar Hill Records) — I have to admit I'd never heard of this guy before this CD landed in my mailbox and I'm guessing there are other rootsy music buffs who share my ignorance. But after a listen to "Electricity," I can't imagine why any halfway serious fan of traditional folk and country music like myself is in the dark about Jimmy Murphy. Recorded in 1978 four years before his death, this recently released CD finds Murphy mixing old-timey and blues music with gospel and bluegrass influences in a thoroughly honest and individual way.

Singing with hard country style, Murphy's original songs are both humorous and truthful, and certainly deserving of their place in the collection of any fan of traditional American music. Future Nashville superstars Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas lend their efforts on mandolin and dobro respectively, but "Electricity" remains a worthy record of Jimmy Murphy's largely unheralded talents. — Ames Arnold

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