The new album recalls songs and songwriters from the 1970s Outlaw Country era.
More than four decades after he joined Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and others in Austin to forge the free-form country-rock hybrid celebrated in Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s, the ambitious exhibition now on view at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Michael Martin Murphey is presenting Austinology: Alleys of Austin. Set for a Friday, Sept. 19 release, the album — which Murphey discussed during an interview in our July issue — pays tribute to the songs and songwriters from a seminal period that turned Austin into one of the musical capitals of the world.
“This album is not just about my songs,” Murphey says. “It’s about style and substance that makes a song that stands the test of time, a song that has a chance of living on in the Great American Songbook.
“So I did my personal take on songs by Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Allan Damron, as well as songs made popular by Willie and Waylon. I stayed with songs that came out when I was there — between 1968 and 1974 — because I personally experienced what the impact of that songwriting style was on the culture.
“Because,” he adds with a laugh, “I was there, you know?”
For Austinology: Alleys of Austin, Murphey invited several artists who either were part of the ‘70s Outlaw Country scene, or have been influenced by the music that defined the era, to join him on new renditions of classic songs. Among the stellar collaborators: Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Amy Grant — and Texas native Randy Rogers, who performs with Murphey on the tune “Backsliders Wine” (from Murphey’s 1972 debut album Geronimo’s Cadillac.)
“I grew up on a steady dose of Michael Martin Murphey,” says Rogers. “My father played his music in our house and he traveled to see Michael many times play in Red River. Michael was one of my heroes as a kid. I was too young to go on those trips and it killed me to not tag along. Singing on this record is a long time in the making and a dream come true for me.”
Amy Grant performs with Murphey on a new version of “Wildfire,” a song Murphey co-wrote and recorded for the biggest selling album of his career, Blue Sky — Night Thunder, released in 1975. And much like Rogers, she’s grateful for the opportunity to revisit the music of her youth: “Hearing ‘Wildfire’ throws me right back into my high school years, when all of music felt like a great discovery.”
Peter Blackstock, music writer for the Austin American-Statesman, views Austinology: Alleys of Austin as a nostalgia-drenched delight with a potent emotional impact. “Murphey hasn’t lived here for decades,” Blackstock says, “but the music he made here in his late 20s helped shaped the sound of 1970s Austin. There’s a twinge of melancholy in this long look back on our city’s musical legacy. But it’s nice to hear Murphey take such a deep dive into his past,” especially because “his warm tenor vocals [are] remarkably as resonant at age 73 as they were back then.”