Black Music Matters Festival

David Lee Murphy with Jo Dee Messina - Murphy proves to be more than a pretty face

Avalon, Boston, March 13, 1996

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - David Lee Murphy has those chiseled good looks with sideburns and a hunk feel.

But even though he wore a cowboy hat at his concert, Murphy is not merely the latest in a line of hunks with hats.

In reality, he is more of a good old country boy from Illinois, who knows his rock roots, while able to belt out country tunes.

Murphy, on an off-night from opening slot on a tour with Brooks & Dunn, also proved there was more to him than his hits, showcasing several songs from an album due this spring.

While many artists are simply content and guided by the "principle" of merely copying their albums lest they offend their fans, Murphy would have none of it. He started "Out With a Bang," the title cut from his debut. The song is more of a Southern rocker than a country tune, but it was here that Murphy set the pace for the rest of the 90-minute show.

While not possessing the most vibrant nor smoothest voice, Murphy's vocals were more than up to the task.

Even more importantly, the opener showed Murphy's backing band was his ace in the hole. Drummer Michael Caputes and bassist Douglas Kahan kept steady beats for the songs with Caputes whipping the skins.

Guitarist David Hargess played his licks well, not wasting notes, but helping propel the songs. While there was no pedal steel on stage, Hargess made his guitar sound like one at times. Murphy let his band members play out, often stretching the songs.

After starting with four rockers, Murphy played the slower "Why Can't People Just Get Along," a song he wrote about a decade ago with the late Minny Pearl backstage at The Nashville Network. It was here - in a song about Hank Williams Sr. - that Murphy started showing more of his country roots. One had wondered if, in fact, he had any.

But there was no doubt about that, soon covering and doing justice to a Merle Haggard tune, though a bit busy sounding.

Murphy is still touring from his debut out more than a year, but he showcased three songs from "Gettin' Out for the Good Stuff," out in May. And he debuted the just released single, "Born That Way," sort of echoing his hit "Just Once." He played a new tune based on his roots, "Genuine Redneck," where the title explained it all.

Further to Murphy's credit was his failure to simply trot out his hits and rely on filler. He did not play his three hits - "Just Once," Party Crowd" and the closer of the regular set "Dust On the Bottle" until the end.

Murphy, who showed a sense of warmthy, though no great between song patter, closed with covers of "Blue Suede Shoes," which lacked direction, "Johnny B. Goode" and the Stones' "It's All Over Now," on which Murphy was a natural.

Messina, touring in advance of her April 9 debut co-produced by Tim McGraw, gained attention already with her first single, "Heads Carolina, Tails California."The red-headed Massachusetts native may be a contender among new artists. She offers a wonderfully powerful voice that can belt out the songs, doing so time and again during her 45-opening slot.

Aside from backing harmonies from Stacey Costas, the band was merely competent.

But based on her confidence and voice, Messina should be heard from a lot this year.

The absolute low point of the night of the WBCS-radio show drawing almost 1,200 was the between acts goings on of country dance music, which gives the genre a bad name, and a fashion show featuring Harley Davidson clothes with models prancing sensuously about the stage. Fortunately, the bookends of Messina and Murphy - with more than looks to their credit - more than made up for it.