Michael Martin Murphey's career has taken several turns. His first brush with success came when his friend Michael Nesmith cut his country-rock tune "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round" with The Monkees in 1967. Murphey had a major pop hit in 1975 with "Wildfire" and became a popular country crooner in the '80s with hits like "What's Forever For." On "High Stakes," Murphey renews his commitment to western music that began with the 1990 album "Cowboy Songs" while demonstrating some of the diversity that has marked his more than four decades of recording.
While the opening title track and "I've Got the Guns" can be thematically identified as cowboy songs, the musical arrangements are reminiscent of his country-rock work in the '70s. Some of the stronger tracks recall the ballads of the '80s including the patriotic "Honor Bound" ("There's something that old soldiers and old cowboys know/Only when you keep your promise will the seeds of honor grow") and the haunting "Emilia Farewell" ("How could I know it was my head/My brothers would fill up with lead?").
Murphey demonstrates diversity in his choice of covers with effective renditions of Australian singer/songwriter John Robert Williamson's "Campfire On the Road" and "Three Sons," as well as a Celtic touch with David John Wilkie's "The Drover Road to Amulree" and "The Betrayal of Johnnie Armstrong." Perhaps the highlights are the pair of songs from Marty Robbins' "Gunfighter Ballads" with Jim Glaser's "Running Gun" and Robbins' "Master's Call."
At 71, Murphey's vocals remain pleasant, while the stellar support cast includes son Ryan Murphey (acoustic guitar, mandolin), Pat Flynn (12 string guitar), Al Perkins (steel), Matt Pierson (bass) and Jim Hoke (accordion). With "High Stakes," Murphey nicely demonstrates his impressive range of tastes and creates the desire for further volumes of "Cowboy Songs."