For the respectful brews-and-booze revering community found in Telluride, Whiskey Tango’s alcoholic nomenclature and mix of dry bluegrass with organic jam, served through psychedelic sifters and folk infusions, should translate better than well in the live setting. The quintet claims the 5 Points neighborhood of Denver as their home, an epicenter for raw young bands that figure it out in the basement and slam it down onstage. Bells and whistles have no place here, but it’s not just about picking anymore. Tenacity on the strings must meet a personality that evolves the genre into a retro Wild West attitude, while still paying mind to the progressions of improvisational rock music. If any band is doing this on the Front Range right now it is Whisky Tango.
The personalized characteristics of folk storytelling are as vital as the Americana twang that makes it feel like it is ours to own. Whisky Tango is a band still in their infancy when it comes to the Bluegrass historical lineage, having released their debut album Groggy Mountain Mornings in 2012. Yet they are falling into line with the leaders of the Newgrass movements that the state of Colorado clutches with pride. Their juvenility is not something to hold against them, but seems to be the source of their drive to push all their influences into a tight package with room to grow. Not many bands can claim a 52 residency at Denver’s jamband Mecca that is Quixote’s True Blue, but this one has, and that should be enough to know they will be ready to throw it down at the Moon in Telluride tonight.
Whiskey Tango, Thu., Feb. 6, Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, 10 p.m., $5
Michael Martin Murphey to Do Two Nights on the Western Slope
Prominent Country Western music voice and multiple Grammy nominee Michael Martin Murphey is set to do back-to-back shows in Grand Junction and Montrose this week. Coming of age in Dallas, Tex., on ranches owned by his grandfather and uncles, it was stories heard on the porch under the stars that would influence his gravitation towards cowboy songs. That coupled with avid reading of Mark Twain and William Faulkner, and listening to 78 rpm records of country music heroes like Hank Williams and folk revolutionary Wood Guthrie, led to his first professional gig at the age of 17. It wouldn’t be long before he formed a band that moved through the Dallas club circuit, winning over conservative Texas audiences with his charm and songwriting skill.
After outgrowing the Texas scene he transplanted to California to attend UCLA. He landed a deal with Sparrow Music and quickly made a name for himself among the Los Angeles folk scene both solo and with the Trinity River Boys. His first big break came with friend Michael Nesmith of The Monkees, who asked him to write a song for the band’s next album. The result was “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” for the record Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., which went on to sell over 5 million units. After moving to a village in the San Gabriel Mountains near the Mojave Desert, Murphey went deep into his songwriting efforts and came out with works that would be recorded by Flatts and Scruggs, Bobbie Gentry and Kenny Rogers, as well as more songs for The Monkees.
Despite success through others, he quickly grew disillusioned with the Southern California scene and brought his talents back to Texas. His debut album A&M Records reached the Top 40 and Rolling Stone cited him the best new songwriter in the country. The momentum lead to an even bigger deal with Epic Records and eventually his seminal album Blue Sky – Night Thunder, which hosted the hit “California in the Pines” and his opus, “Wildfire.” The song became a number-one hit and was his first of six albums to go gold. One of which was Swans Against the Sun, which featured heavyweights John Denver, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniel and Steve Weiberg.
Since the peak of his success Murphey has continued to innovate beyond simple cowboy songs. He has recorded multiple Christmas albums, a concept album titled Sagebrush Symphony with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, a tribute album to animals, started an annual music festival in Copper Mountain called WestFest, performed on Letterman and at John Wayne’s 100 birthday, received commendation from the White House, and even started to play Bluegrass so well they gave him a Grammy nomination.
There isn’t much Michael Martin Murphey hasn’t offered the music world, and he can be pinned as the sole reason for the resurrection of the cowboy song genre. His appearance at the Montrose Pavillion on Saturday is the culmination of four decades of dedication to a purely American craft that not many do better than him.
Michael Martin Murphey, Sat, Feb. 8, Montrose Pavillion, 7:30 p.m., $30/$35