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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

May 11, 2010 at 10:36 AM

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Seattle's The Moondoggies plays Neumos 05/20/10, Kevin Murphy talks "You'll Find No Answers Here" EP and "Tidelands" album

Posted by Andrew Matson

Kevin Murphy singing, Caleb Quick in the foreground; photo by Christopher Nelson

There's a whole scene of young rock bands in Seattle copping rootsy moves right now, playing tunes that sound like The Band, dressing like the '70s, hanging out in Ballard.

And then there's The Moondoggies, leading the way artistically and tapping into a more authentic place via shy, anti-star front-man/chief songwriter Kevin Murphy.

His band plays Neumos Thursday, May 20, and will dip into new material from its sophomore album "Tidelands," tentatively scheduled for release in September on local label Hardly Art. There is also good reason to believe Murphy & Co. will perform from an EP made up of overflow "Tidelands" tracks presently called "You'll Find No Answers Here."

The EP is five nuanced, unflashy songs about heartbreak and, to a lesser degree, romance — "Fly Mama Fly" is a plea to be broken up with; "Just Makes Sense to Me" communicates a warm, vague feeling. Mostly it's a beautiful bummer, with key lyrics being "It's hard to love someone / who left a long time ago" and "Jesus won't deliver."

"My issue with lyrics is I can't sing it unless I believe in what I'm saying," says Murphy over a coffee on a Lower Queen Anne sidewalk.

Asked if he's accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, he quietly responds, "Hell, no."

At one point on "You'll Find No Answers Here," at the end of barroom singalong "It's Hard to Love Someone," Murphy parks his voice in the higher part of his tenor register and forcibly sustains an a cappella outro. It's a "Whoa, who's this guy?" moment.

Funny thing about Murphy and singing: he's gifted, ability-wise (a non-nasal Neil Young, one might say) but cursed with nervousness that flares up in concerts and sometimes makes him bury his voice with his guitar. When he beats the anxiety back, he arrives at emotional pockets and snatches that feel much harder-earned than from another singer. But it's a fight. He says he was encouraged to sing loudly on the recorded version of "It's Hard to Love Someone" by keyboardist Caleb Quick.

"I really like to sing," he says, "But I don't get pleasure listening to myself."

He also hates watching himself, like in "$5 Cover," the MTV series about local music directed by Seattle's Lynn Shelton ("Humpday") that Murphy stars in as an actor and performer. "$5 Cover" is making film festival rounds right now (it will be at SIFF) and Murphy's been travelling with Shelton to speak about it on panels, but he can't watch it, just like he can't listen to his albums. "$5 Cover" takes The Moondoggies' slow, sentimental "Old Hound" for its unofficial theme song.

Speaking of themes: Does the new album "Tidelands" have one?

"We didn't want it to be too mopey," says Murphy. Then, sighing: "But it might be. The album is about trying to be constructive with depression. Not being like woe is me, but engaging with it, addressing it."

I tell him I need to learn that, and he checks me:

"I didn't say I was successful."

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