Murray Low: Slipping Away In this second CD, Murray will reach out and touch you again. His lyrics are precise, deliberate and heartfelt. Pull up a chair and listen. He builds upon his clean folk sound, adding horns, pedal steel guitar and fuller back-up vocals. The music ranges from cowboy to gospel and the stories are about life transitions ... of all sorts. Laura Brown interviews Murray Low about new release: LB: I'm sitting here looking at a wonderful picture of a jubilant Murray Low at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro...so you really climbed Kilimanjaro to announce the release of your new CD? ML: Yes, wasn't that a brilliant idea? LB: It was a brilliant idea. And you went to Africa for that purpose? ML: Well, no. Not exactly. I was there on a very interesting project with my day job. I'm working with a private business school in Nairobi to help them learn how to write and teach case studies. It's a project funded by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector part of the World Bank. LB: That sounds interesting! ML: It is. Extremely. There is a huge need for high quality and locally relevant business education in Africa that is available at affordable prices. And writing case studies is fun. They are basically stories, with a point. Kind of like some of my songs! So while I was there I just decided to go for a walk up the mountain.... LB: So do you have a big following for your music in Africa? ML: Well, I'm working on it! (laughs) I actually did give out a few copies of the new CD to some friends and others I met when I was there. A big part of the fun of making this music is sharing it. And I sent a copy of this CD to the guide who helped me climb up Kilimanjaro, so if I've picked the right network contact, who knows? LB: So tell me about this new CD. It was only a year ago that you released your first CD. How did it happen so fast? ML: Well, had so much fun doing the first one. I just kept writing, and this is what happened. I had a bit of a head start, because 3 or 4 of the songs on this album were ones that didn't make it onto the first one, and then I just kept going. My initial intention to do something a little different, and I think I've accomplished that. LB: How is this CD different from the first? ML: Well, I wanted to experiment with a different sound. This record has a much bigger band and a bigger sound. We added horns, a full drum kit, a steel guitar and fuller back-up vocals. It's a more highly produced record. It is still pretty folky, but I think it has a more polished sound. LB: And what about the content? ML: Well that's interesting. I really didn't realize what the content was all about until it was finished and shrink wrapped. It was only then, and really only after sharing with a few friends, that I realized what it was all about. This record is really about transitions. LB: What do you mean? ML: Well, the first record was written shortly after my wife had died and was largely about grief. I think the reason I wanted to do a second record was to bring that to closure by doing something completely different. And I'd have to say that I only partly succeed in doing so. What I mean is the sound is somewhat different, but the tone is still pretty introspective. Someone called it mournful! LB: Well if it's any consolation, I didn't find it mournful. I thought it was quite upbeat. ML: You didn't? Great. It really is all about moving on. This is a theme throughout. I just didn't notice it until it was finished. If you know Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's book On Death and Dying, you understand that there are stages of coming to grips with a loss. One goes through these stages, and eventually one moves on. I think this album represents the moving on stage. LB: In our last interview you mentioned that you were at work on this album and that you wanted to have the chance to perform your new songs live before you recorded them. Did you get a chance to do that? And have you been doing a lot of performing? ML: Some, but this project has taken a lot of time. Writing and performing in the studio is very different from performing live. So I'm really just getting into it now. I've got a few gigs lined up. But it is a whole new thing. Without a band there is nowhere to hide! In a live performance, it is really about building rapport with the audience. What happens between the songs is almost as important as the music itself. So it's a big new challenge for me. I'm also learning the harmonica to add some color if I'm performing by myself. LB: Are you performing near your home in Connecticut? ML: Yes, and in New York. There are a number of clubs that have regularly scheduled open mikes. So I'll show up and do a few songs. And then I have a few gigs lined up where I'll be the show. I'm still learning. It's scary but I'm excited about it! LB: Let's talk about some of the songs in detail now. I noticed that you continued in your tradition of writing songs about your family. I believe you have songs about both your mother and your father on 'Slipping Away.' Can you tell me about those songs? ML: Yes, there's a song for my father. I wrote it for him for his 90th birthday. It's a companion piece to 'Wee Willie' from first album, which was about my grandfather. And yes, there's also a song about my mother, who is in her 90s now and has alzheimer's. She's recently moved into a home where she's being cared for, which has been a big transition for the family. The song talks about what it is like to visit her. LB: You talk in the song about where she is. ML: Well, when you go to visit her, you never quite know where she is or what she is thinking. And the theme of the song is to follow her, wherever she is, wherever she goes. It is very repetitive. I like that song. LB: I like it too. Does it help you deal with the pain of your mother's disease? ML: Well, my mother's a wonderful sweet person, and that comes through even though she's often confused. Her move into the home has been especially hard on my father, who had been her primary caregiver. LB: So the album is about transitions for the whole family, not just yourself. ML: That's right. There's also a song for my brother Tom, who died a year ago. I was actually able to sing it for him in the hospital while he was sick. Then his wife asked me to perform it at the funeral. That was difficult, but I thought it was a nice tribute to him; I was glad to do it. LB: And of course your son Adam is there, in a very poignant song. In our last interview you said that women come and go, but that your son is always there. ML: Did I say that? (laughs) Well, it's still true. I sometimes have to go off on trips and leave him at home, and it's hard for him. He's gotten better with it, but it's still hard for us both. And I wrote that song as a way of telling him that I would always come back. LB: And Murray, the women... ML: (Laughs). Yes?? LB: Awful lot of 'em. ML: Well, not as many as it may seem. A lot of the songs are about the same woman. We would get together and break up on a regular basis. It wasn't perfect, but it was great for song writing! And not everything here is autobiographical. A lot of it is imagination. LB: So as we discussed in our last interview, a lot of these songs appear to be autobiographical but are really semi-autobiographical. MB: Yes that's right. LB: Well, I guess they have such a ring of truth to them, it makes a listener curious. MB: Well, if any woman thinks she recognizes herself in a song she can send me an email. I'll send her an autographed copy of the CD and promise not to ask any questions (laughs). LB: I was interested in the song 'Worried Ghost Rider.' MB: Ah... LB: In that song you quite self-consciously pick up the folk tradition-I think I first heard the phrase 'it takes a worried man to sing a worried song' on a Carter Family record MB: Yes, the first recorded it in 1930. And it's just one of those songs that's always been an earworm for me. I've always known it, always heard it. And I combined it with another song that's always been an earworm, which is 'Ghost Riders in the Sky.' And the song just came together. Some of these songs take longer to write than others, but this one came together in about 20 minutes. LB: Sounds like it was just waiting to happen. MB: Yes, sometimes it's like that. LB: Interesting combination of traditions. ML: I think it's one of the most interesting songs on the album, both because of the combination of the traditions but also because of the music. There's some great pedal steel guitar by John Widgren and acoustic guitar by Mike Mugrage. It either steals shamelessly from these other songs or pays homage, depending on your point of view. LB: Certainly. I think that's the way music works. I was also intrigued by the song 'Up on Top.' ML: Well, you know, I spend a lot of time consulting with executives. They have high-powered jobs, they make a lot of money, but when I get to know them I often find them disappointed with their success. It hasn't brought them all they expected. LB: And you end the album with a song that has a real gospel feeling...lots of voices. You really have expanded musically. ML: Yes, that was the intention, to reach out beyond what I did on the first album. LB: I was intrigued by the title of the album, 'Slipping Away.' It's the name of the first track on the CD. Did you choose the name for the album after you had realized it was about transitions? ML: No, I think I had picked this title track before I had the insight about transitions. And if I had to do it again, I might have called the CD 'Transitions.' As I think about it, it seems to me that 'Slipping Away' might have negative connotations, and I don't think the album is negative. LB: No, I don't think so either. If we could just shift gears here a bit...the liner of the CD has pictures of your family, just as in your first album: it's very interesting to see the faces of the people you're singing about but the cover art is very different, and very beautiful. The cover of your last album featured a photograph of your grandfather, Wee Willie. Where does the cover art come from? ML: My son actually did the cover art. He knew I was trying to figure out the cover design. Without my knowledge went on the internet and found some images and used the computer to create the text. And he came up with several designs for me to choose from. So I chose this one, and I love it. He also took the photograph on the back cover. He wanted a picture of me smiling, so he took a joke book, and he would tell me a joke and when I started to laugh he took a picture. LB: That's great! ML: Yeah, so that how that picture came about...in my dining room with my son holding a digital camera and a joke book. LB: So he really took charge... ML: That's right; he did. LB: So what about the future? ML: Well, I have a few new songs I'm working on. But I think my major focus for the immediate future will be playing music live. What I really want to do is get better at performing this music. As I said, it's a whole different thing to master. LB: It'll be interesting to see how the performing may influence the songwriting. ML: As I look at these two albums, I see a preponderance of reflective songs. And for a live performance, you do need a certain number of toe-tappers, so I think I'll be trying to write a few of those too. But even so, for this kind of music it's gotta be the right venue. This is not bar music on a Saturday night; this requires a venue where people are prepared to really listen to the content. Although playing covers for a Saturday night crowd could be fun too. Who knows? We'll see.......
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