Spider Murphy is a name I have seen and heard numerous times in local music listings, but besides the fact that he usually gigs on Bourbon Street, I was unaware of this veteran banjo player and vocalist. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
However, that should change with the release of Smells Like Salvation. Recorded at Word of Mouth Studios and mastered by local luminary David Farrell, the album sounds great, features inventive arrangements, and highlights a mostly unknown (at least to me) cast of musicians who bring this collection of mostly covers to life.
Murphy has quite the musical pedigree. He attended Berklee College of Music in the late 1970s and early 1980s and studied under Pat Metheny. He has steadily recorded and performed ever since those days, conducted orchestras behind comedians Joan Rivers and Garry Shandling, and won a New York Directors Guild Award for writing television and radio commercials.
Murphy has a grizzled voice that fits perfectly with the material as he works his way though this collection of traditional jazz and blues with hardly a misfire among the 14 songs. Standouts include Prince Albert Hunt’s “Blues in a Bottle” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”
On the latter, Tim Reagan delivers a strong tenor saxophone solo mirroring Murphy’s languid take on the classic lyrics. The mysteriously monikered Professor G. also drops a skilled piano solo. This is clearly not Elvis Presley’s version.
Throughout, Murphy’s banjo playing is at the center of the sound, but he never hogs the spotlight. That’s a credit to this veteran player and the musicians in the Fatback Vipers.