Feb 3, 2002

It's hard to be an unabashed power popper in Austin, Texas. The River City is best known for its many variations on American roots music (blues, outlaw country, rockabilly, conjunto, etc.), but the town is also host to a vibrant pop scene, and singer/songwriter/one-man-band Darin Murphy is one of its leading lights. His debut album Solitarium garnered tons of acclaim in underground pop circles around the globe. If the gods be kind, then his sophomore effort will find its way into bigger fields. Haunted Gardenias finds the gifted Texan honing his melodic skills to a razor-keen edge. Enhanced by crisp guitars, rock-solid rhythms and Murphy's instantly appealing voice (reminiscent of Toy Matinee's Kevin Gilbert), the hooks in tracks like the rollicking opener "Metro B," the lovely ballad "Masterpiece" and the witty "Blackberry Plain" resonate with Beatlesque grandeur. In fact, "Turning Into You" sounds like the John Lennon/George Harrison songwriting collaboration of a Beatlemaniac's fantasies. That's not to say that Murphy is yet another wannabe aping the Fab Four; rather, he's assimilated the lessons the masters taught into his own candy-apple art. A perfect example is "The Heavens Cried For You," an emotionally wrenching ballad that sounds like no one but Murphy. The pinnacle, though, is "Boxing Day," a beautiful and ultra-catchy affirmation of love that will probably find its way into future wedding receptions. It's the kind of smart, satisfying cut that would sound great playing under a scene in Gilmore Girls, not only underlining the poignancy of the action but also impressing the hell out of you with the music supervisor's hip choice. Haunted Gardenias gives great pop.

Michael Toland