Darin's bewitching LP echoes fab four

By Michael Corcoran

American-Statesman Staff

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Darin Murphy's a pretty mellow cat, but if his powerfully poppy new CD "Haunted Gardenias" is an indication, there's no telling what he might do if you told him that a certain four-piece combo from Liverpool is overrated. "I was listening to the Beatles before I was born," says the 36-year-old, who was raised in a rock 'n' roll household in Houston. "My mom was carrying me at the height of Beatlemania. I guess it just seeped in."

Several Murphy originals, such as "Masterpiece" and "Turning Into You," sound like outtakes from a John Lennon solo album. As a drummer, meanwhile, Murphy continues to marvel at Ringo's beat. "His right foot ruled the world," he says. But Murphy says he was careful to keep "Gardenias" from coming off as a Beatles tribute record. "Every group that tries to sound like the Beatles ends up sounding more like Badfinger." Several tracks, such as "Metro B," carry a modern, aggressive feel, and "Zero G" washes the melodies in new-wavelike synths. "The Heavens Cried For You" echoes Radiohead's mournful wail. "Gardenias" is an album of heavy layers and stripped-down sentiments: a travelogue trying to find its way home.

Murphy moved to Austin in 1994 to become a better drummer, a better songwriter. At the time, he and his older sister Trish Murphy had a band -- Trish & Darin -- that was one of most popular acts on the Houston club scene, yet barely drew enough fans in Austin to cover gas money. Still, Darin says, he was "as enchanted with Austin as I was disenchanted with Houston. I knew that I had to move here if I was going to grow as a musician." Performing with his sister since he was 7, singing in their father's folk-rock group, the Family Plot, Murphy was eager to see what kind of music he could make on his own. "I was always more into British music -- the Who, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, the Police -- and Trish was more into the country side. Her heroes have always been Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt."

Even as Murphy played in his sister's band ("I'm not happy unless I'm regularly playing drums," he says), he fell in with pop enthusiasts such as Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather, Shane Bartell and producer Lars Goransson. Murphy's '98 debut LP, "Solitarium," found him stepping out from the drums and into his thoughts. "It's really a much more cerebral record than the new one," he says of the album that inspired one critic to surmise that because of all the blunt analytical observations in his songs, he'd be a difficult boyfriend. "Haunted Gardenias" is based more on personal experiences.

With Goransson at the helm, Murphy's melodies soar. Regardless of the lyrical inspiration, these songs are instantly hummable. "There's just something about people from Sweden (Goransson's home until he moved to Austin 15 years ago). They understand pop music," Murphy says. "I just clicked with Lars, though he's a `more is more' guy, and my motto is `less is more.' " The compromise was to make the lush sections more lush and to keep the more intimate parts uncluttered. On "Boxing Day," the recording methods take turns, making for an irresistible bit of introspection.

And even if you don't listen to KGSR, which has put "Boxing Day" in its rotation, there'll be no avoiding Murphy's music in coming months. He's just cut three spots for Schlotzsky's, including one in which he comically strains for high notes a la Alfalfa.

And Murphy just may one day run into one of his childhood idols at the Tequila Mockingbird jingle factory. "David Fore, he's the man," Darin says of the drummer for Bubble Puppy, whom Murphy's father used to open for. Houston's one-hit wonders ("Hot Smoke and Sassafras") aren't doing commercials these days, but Fore's current outfit does shill to pay the bills on occasion. With a touch of irony, he plays in the Eggmen -- a Beatles cover band. Should the two meet, the subject of Ringo's right foot would no doubt come up.