Michael Martin Murphey - guitar, vocals; Richard Dean - guitar; Herb Steiner - steel guitar; Jac Murphy - keyboards; Michael McKinney - bass, vocals; Michael Christian - drums
On the strength of Michael Murphey's debut 1972 album, Geronimo's Cadillac, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed him the best new songwriter in the country. The fact was that Murphey had been writing songs for many years and even had some minor pop success in the 1960s with the Lewis & Clarke Expedition, a country-rock outfit that he led. Based out of Austin, Murphey was a songwriter who couldn't be pinned down. He was adept at writing country, pop, rock 'n' roll and what generally became known as "Cosmic Cowboy" music, and his satirical song of that name became the unofficial anthem of the Texas music scene. A true precursor to the alt-country genre of the present day, Murphey's songs were recorded by the likes of Flatt & Scruggs, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, Bobbie Gentry, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and many respected artists both in and outside of country music.
Although almost any style could surface within Murphey's songwriting, one thing that remained consistent was his social awareness. His songs often dealt with the destruction of Native American culture and the decline of cowboy life. He sang of living off the land and the responsibility of sustaining a healthy environment; common enough themes, but he was a little eccentric and unique in his lyrical content, making his songs stand out from the usual fray.
At the time of this Record Plant recording in 1974, Murphey's "cosmic cowboy" persona is fairly well developed. This performance contains many of the stand-out songs from his first two albums, as well as several new songs destined for his third self-titled album. He's joined by a tight band of seasoned Nashville studio musicians who provide flawless accompaniment and even some inspired soloing near the end of the performance. At this point in his career, his left of center country-rock sound had a lyrical depth and his voice had an inherent reflective quality that was quite uncommon in contemporary country music.
"South Western Pilgrimage," "You Can Only Say So Much" and "Nobody's Gonna Tell Me" are the new songs here and they continue to show both his diversity and gift at painting vivid pictures through aural composition. The epic "South Canadian River Song" and "Cosmic Cowboy" represent the material from his second album, with the remainder of the set sourced from Geronimo's Cadillac. Even after all these years and much greater success, the songs from this album stand as some of the finest of Murphey's career. With a heavy emphasis on country but with a dose of melodic pop added for texture, songs like "Boy From The Country" and "Backslider's Wine" still sound fresh today and were a clear indication of where Murphey was heading.
The performance also contains the unreleased gem, "West Texas Highway," a song later covered by many others, including Lyle Lovett, who was a devoted fan. However, the standout track here is the title song from Geronimo's Cadillac. It's easy to see why this song garnered so much attention in 1972, containing thought-provoking lyrical content within a very engaging musical framework. It's an entirely engaging performance for the entire ten minutes; over twice the length of the original.
Murphey would become increasingly pensive and openly contemplative in the following years, but this recording reflects his craft at its purest, before the trappings of fame and commercial success. The year after this performance, he would record his commercial breakthrough, Blue Sky - Night Thunder. That album contained the song "Wildfire," which became a cross-over hit, rising to #3 on the pop charts and earning Murphey his first gold record.