Ants & Angels
Rarely has the long and winding road to a debut solo album been paved with so much quantifiable achievement and top-level experience. Peter Murray is a fixture in Toronto's lively music community--a well-liked sideman and colleague to dozens of musicians, a published author internationally recognized as an authority on bass guitar technique, and a multi-talented musician/producer who roams fearlessly along the vast continuum that stretches from pop/rock orthodoxy to improvisational jazz-funk mayhem. Over the last decade his credits have included studio and live work with Ron Sexsmith, Jian Ghomeshi (ex-Moxy Früvous), Damhnait Doyle, Sass Jordan, Simon Wilcox, Jeff Healey, Mia Sheard, The Cash Brothers and The Tea Party's Jeff Martin, among many others. With Ants and Angels, a full-length CD that includes a few re-recorded tracks from his well-received 2002 EP Versus the Ants, Murray steps forward as a wry, intelligent, quietly ambitious singer-songwriter in his own right. Wearing his fondest musical influences on his sleeve, he faced up to his personal demons (a.k.a. The ants) and called down the angels (a core group of his most trusted musical friends). The result: an 11-song debut that seamlessly fuses melodic 80s pop (Squeeze, Tears for Fears), dazzling wordplay (think vintage XTC circa Skylarking), classic-rock core values (The Beatles, Neil Young) and the intelligent thrust of contemporary singer-songwriters like John Mayer and the late Elliot Smith. In the few short months since it's soft release in May, 2006, the album has generated a slew of upbeat reviews along with significant Triple-A (Adult Album Alternative) airplay on more than 60 radio stations in the U.S. 'It's fantastically encouraging, says Murray, but these are early days and it's all ahead of me. I'm a perfectionist, so right now I'm thrilled to get quick confirmation that my work is decent enough to please some people with taste and discrimination.' After test driving the songs as an opening act in Japan for Teddy and Linda Thompson (two significant limbs of Richard Thompson's family tree) and on tour in Ireland with acclaimed singer-songwriter Stewart Agnew, Murray recorded Ants and Angels with co-producing engineers Michael Jack (Rush, The Trews) and Matt DeMatteo (Big Wreck, Ashley MacIsaac). Eager for a collaborative process, Murray gave full license to the Toronto-based musicians hired for the sessions. Drummer Davide DiRenzo (Holly Cole, jacksoul), guitarists Justin Abedin and David Celia, keyboardist Michael Holt (ex of San Francisco band The Mommyheads) and cellist/arranger Kevin Fox (Sarah Harmer, Shaye, Sarah Slean) appear throughout the disc. 'Angels to me are true friends. They deliver love and support but will also call you on your hypocrisies. And these guys, while not exactly angels in a conventional sense, are like that for me,' says Murray with a laugh. 'They're all incredible friends and brilliant musicians who I've worked with a lot over the years. The chemistry we have together makes it almost like a band situation. It's like casting a great movie--if you pick the right actors, they'll take it from there. (Murray, who studied film at university, likens himself more to Wim Wenders than Cecil B. DeMille.) As for the ants in the album title, the artist describes them as imagined enemies--internal and external. The metaphor speaks to the idea that we ourselves, not the people and circumstances we blame, are what hold us back. Murray quickly adds that he doesn't like analyzing his work too closely. 'Let's just say there are strong threads that run through the record--they all come from me and they're all honest.' Beginning with the alphabet-soup wit and power-pop drive of Gen X DJ on E, Ants and Angels progresses smartly through the melodious Triple-A favorites 'Skydiver Friends' and 'Lucky to Breathe' and onward to the multi-layered, almost prog-flavored closing trilogy of 'Angels,' 'The Ark' and 'Heavy Sleeper.' Many of the songs are amusing, others far weightier, but typically Murray treads a fine line between those extremes. The bouncy, guitar-pop confection 'Ears Make Wax,' for instance, sprang from his sudden realization that his body had been working overtime his entire life at an unconscious level; that thought, in turn, led to deeper musings about mortality. Explains Murray: 'I've tried to pace the album like a good set list. It starts off with a bang, takes listeners to a bunch of different places and hopefully keeps them entertained from start to finish.' With the album's favorable early reception, Murray intends to gradually turn up the heat in the months ahead. 'I subscribe to the same slow philosophy that people like Carl Honoré (author of the bestselling In Praise of Slow) are talking about in relation to food, travel and a culture that keeps accelerating faster and faster,' explains Murray. Keeping perspective on his budding singer-songwriter career also means he can stay engaged with his professional life as a producer/engineer working out of his own Toronto studio, The Junction Soundbox. He's currently helming upcoming CDs from the Juno Award-winning band The Wooden Stars and singer Pamela Brennan (ex of Hennessey). In Murray's world, it seems, slow is rush-hour busy by most standards.