Red River Entertainment

Over the years, Michael Martin Murphey has carved out a well-established niche. Even his recent forays into bluegrass material have an immediately identifiable pop sound and musical approach flavored by his deep love of the West. Supported by bluegrass stalwarts Pat Flynn, Jason Mowbray, and Troy Engle, the largely acoustic Red River Drifter still has the western sound Murphey has honed over the years.

He’s a pleasant singer with an ear towards pop and some peculiar twists of melody and phrase, and most of these songs have the distinct western flavor we associate with his music. His voice is showing its age a bit and his pitch isn’t all that true, but what may have been lost in skill is made up in feeling. Many of these songs feel as if they are deeply personal to him. That may explain the impression that the songs may not be quite as finely crafted as some of his more familiar hits. So, while songs like the delightful “Shake It Off” reel us in with a good hook and bouncy feel, others start out strong only to fall victim to oddball melodic twists (“Peaceful Country”), and a few (“The Gathering” and “Unfinished Symphony”) fall short lyrically and come across as awkward or emotionally overwrought.

Although the recording is skillfully executed instrumentally, ultimately the songs are too heavy on tricks and simplistic lyrics to be very satisfying over the long haul. Red River Drifter leaves this listener wishing the songs had been given a bit more fine-tuning. (Red River Entertainment, 214 Sullivan St., 4th Fl., New York NY 10012, www.michaelmartinmurphey.com.)AWIII

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