On the surface the pairing of arch New York rock icon Elliott Murphy and English folk legend Iain Matthews seems slightly incongruous, but closer examination reveals the subtle connections. Murphy is an American expatriate living in Paris, while Matthews has relocated to Austin, Texas. Both were championed by critics and ignored by the masses (although Matthews has had many more brushes with success), and both have been more than willing to experiment broadly, serving their art rather than commerce. Chalk up La Terre Commune (French for The Common Ground) in that column. On this collaboration Matthews and Murphy have brought four songs apiece to the table and mutually agreed on five interesting cover choices, ranging from the Brecht-Weill classic "The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" (which the pair mutates with a jazzier feel), to Bob Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell," to Bruce Springsteen's "Sad Eyes." The originals are similarly themed stories of love and loss; while they offer no glaring shift in continuity, they do point to the unique aspects of the principals.
Matthews has been working the folk corner for more than 30 years now, while Murphy has aged into his acoustic presentation. Although Matthews and Murphy are writing material that resonates in many of the same ways, blending the pair in this context brings into sharp relief the one quality that separates them: their vastly disparate vocal styles. Matthews' clear, sharply defined tenor is contrasted by Murphy's Lou Reed/David Bowie/Bob Dylan talking-blues style, and creating a harmony vocal between the two sets up an interesting tension within the electric folk atmosphere. La Terre Commune has some wondrous moments -- Matthews' "Fading Fast" and Murphy's "Dusty Roses" -- and the reputations of both artists are enough to smooth over the rough spots. The album's very existence points to the fact that, in at least some corners of the industry, a few individuals are not afraid to stretch the parameters.
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