Anne Murray – The Voice, the Songs—and That Sad, Old Wintry Feeling
by Mark Mussari
Originally posted on February 21 , 2008.
Anne Murray keeps making the same mistake. She thinks her recording career is over. She thinks the awards are long gone. She thinks the charts are out of reach. Fortunately for all of us, she’s wrong on all counts.
Murray is in the midst of a 56-show tour. Her current release Anne Murray Duets: Friends & Legends hit #8 on Billboard’s Country Chart and is nominated for two Canadian Juno Awards, including Album of the Year (Murray has 24 Junos and four Grammys). “The last time I had anything to do with the Junos,” recalls Murray, “I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. That was sixteen years ago. I’m sure all of these kids thought they’d seen the last of me.”
They can think again. Possessed of a warm alto with some of the purest tones ever recorded and an uncanny ear for choosing mature songs, Anne Murray has amassed a vast catalogue of music spanning pop, country and folk. Some of her biggest hits — “You Needed Me,” “Shadows in the Moonlight,” “Songbird,” “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” — are instantly recognizable melodies to many world citizens. Many have been re-recorded on her new Duets CD with a roster of women luminaries, including Olivia Newton-John, Celine Dion, the Indigo Girls, Carole King and Shania Twain.
“It’s never been a high profile career,” reflects Murray. “I’ve never done the celebrity thing — I just do what I do. I have found that my career has just been about the folks and me. It’s kind of a love affair between us, as opposed to the hype of playing the bigger cities and having to go through all of that.”
One of Murray’s great charms is her unassuming nature, matched by a surprisingly sharp wit and a modest sense of her own talent. Born in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Murray was nine years old, riding in her parents’ car and singing when her Aunt Kay — whom she now wryly refers to as “tone deaf” — commented: “My, she has a lovely voice.”
“Perhaps that’s the moment I began to define myself as a singer,” observes Murray. “When I got to university, my friends kept pushing me to audition for the college review. I said, ‘There are lots of people out there who are better than I am.’”
Once she started to attend those reviews, however, Murray had an epiphany. “I’d go to these things and I’d think, Holy God, why didn’t you do that? These people aren’t nearly as good as you,” she now laughs. “Even when I auditioned for a television show in my second year at university, I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t have a chance.’ Well, I was better than anybody there — and there were hundreds of people! I knew I was, but maybe a part of me still didn’t believe it.”
The richness of Murray’s sound became evident early on: She describes her voice as ”fat, round and warm — and different than anybody else’s.” Her timing could not have been better. She entered the music scene when folk elements still dominated popular music, and the clarity of her tone and her incredible pitch were a perfect fit.
From the inception of her career, her voice was undeniably suited for ballads. “I think interpretation is everything,” explains Murray in retrospect. “The way I look at it, I get in the studio and I become one with these songs. But it has to touch me. If it doesn’t, then I can’t hope to touch anyone else. I have to be completely sucked in by the song. At least that’s the way I think of it. It sounds complicated, but it isn’t really.”
While most of the focus has been on Murray’s more popular numbers, almost four decades of recorded music disclose her finely tuned sense of song choice. An early song such as “You Can’t Have A Hand on Me,” from 1972’s Annie, hints at an edgier side to Murray’s voice, with its darker gospel elements. That sound would resurface in such later numbers as “Lay Me Down (And Roll Me Out to Sea)” and “Take This Heart.”
“Mahalia Jackson was a great influence on me,” notes Murray of the gospel influence on some of her music. “I had every one of her albums when I was a kid, and we played them in the house all the time.”
Murray holds a soft spot in her heart for another early number, “A Million More,” from her 1976 album Keeping in Touch. “I think that song could have been the biggest record ever if the lyrics were a little clearer,” she says of the pensive number, written by her first guitar player Robbie MacNeill. “A lot of people have to be hammered over the head with lyrics,” she explains. “So, they have to be a little clearer — not quite so abstruse. If you really think about those lyrics, you understand exactly what they mean.”