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Liner Notes

Kristina Murray “The Great Unknown” – single and video release

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James Paul Mitchell
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Kristina Murray

When I first heard Kristina Murray sing, I was reminded of growing up with my parents’ record collection; albums by Loretta, Bobbie Gentry, Johnny, Waylon, my mom’s Hank Williams 78s from when she was a teenager in the 50s and too many to mention. There was a familiar sound and feel but with a more current edge in Kristina’s songs. Before quarantine, you’d find her performing regularly at the American Legion Post 82’s Honky-Tonk Tuesdays, where she’s been singing since she first came to town from her native Georgia in 2014. One of the last live shows I attended before the shutdown, was a round at the Bluebird Café hosted by David Newbould, featuring Kristina Murray, King Corduroy and John R. Miller. In January, Kristina released a music video that’s sort of a “mini-movie” for “Tell Me”, from her Southern Ambrosia album and wrote “The Great Unknown” with Leo Rondeau. Even though this song was penned pre-quarantine, its poignant look at appreciating the simple things in life is a much needed elixir right now. I caught up with Kristina about the song, the video and what she has in the works, as we continue to navigate the reality of the great unknown we are living in.

 AnaLee: I love everything about this song, Kristina! From the breezy melody to the gently swinging drum rhythms of Murfreesboro’s Taylor Powell, the trippy video, the scenes you paint with the lyrics, and that little laugh at the beginning. Tell us about writing it with Leo Rondeau, gathering the musicians to record it pre-pandemic, and about the video.

Kristina: Thanks so much AnaLee! Last year, my friend [Austin-turned-Nashville songwriter] Leo Rondeau and I played a couple of dates together, and, being such a big fan of his, I had wanted to try to co-write with him; Leo’s got a real style about his writing that I love and wanted to learn from, so back in January, we gave co-writing a shot and came up with ‘The Great Unknown.’ A few weeks after that, my friend, and artist/guitarist extraordinaire, Thomas Bryan Eaton was looking to do some experimental recording in his home studio to get the kinks worked out in there and asked if I had anything new I was wanting to record. ‘The Great Unknown’ had become a bit of an earworm for me so I thought it’d be a good, no-pressure, easy tune to play around with. I called up my bass player and drummer, and Thomas called a steel player, and we got together the evening of Super Bowl Sunday (… hey, the Titans weren’t in it!) and cut the track.

And then a month later, the pandemic hit!

I feel so lucky that we got to go in, have fun, and cut this song really casually — and for the result to be something I really liked — before the whole world shut down. Once I realized the song was pertinent to the current times and that I wanted to release it as a single, I pondered different ideas for the visuals of the release, thinking first about a lyric video, since it was the middle of quarantine and a true narrative video would be difficult to shoot. Then, another friend and artist, Jake Erwin, came to the rescue with his ambient, psychedelia approach overlaid on top of my Sinéad-‘Nothing Compares 2 U’-inspired headshot… and voilà! In truth, it all came together so effortlessly, I sometimes wish all music creating could be that easy.

AnaLee: You also released a three-song acoustic EP in April called Righteous Man. It includes acoustic versions of “Strong Blood” and “Lovers & Liars” from Southern Ambrosia, is the title song a new one?

Kristina: Though it was recorded six months after my album’s release and with a different producer, I almost feel like the Righteous Man EP is a “demos work tape” of Southern Ambrosia — it’s got the two acoustic versions from the record as you mentioned, and then the title track ‘Righteous Man’, that was a song I had initially been writing as the closer for Southern Ambrosia, but wasn’t quite finished with before the second tracking session. Ultimately, it didn’t make the cut for that record.

I wrote ‘Righteous Man’ after seeing a hand painted sign nailed to a tree that read “What does it take to be a richuss man?” while driving on I-40 through western North Carolina one summer. I suppose it’s just a simple, verse-no-chorus type of secular-gospel elegy and a cerebral musing on life and what living righteously means; all up for interpretation!

AnaLee: One of the songs I saw you perform at the Bluebird last February, “Slow Kill” is also on Southern Ambrosia and you recently released a live performance video for this song. You went to the newly renovated Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern to record it in July of this year, so no audience, but tell us about the new Bobby’s and making the video with Laughing Heart Studios.

Kristina: Yes! I wanted to do ‘Slow Kill’ because it’s one of my favorites on Southern Ambrosia. It’s the most political song I’ve ever written and remains quite relevant three years after its inception… I don’t know if anyone’s noticed but these are political times! (Laughs). The original Bobby’s that was on Music Row was bought and sold back last year. My amazing friend Josh Distad took over the Bobby’s name as co-owner and is re-opening the spot around the corner from the original. It looks really great in there so far and pretty similar to the old location, but I think it’s going to be even cooler, if that’s possible. I love that he and [co-owners] Carolyn [Lethgo] and Sebastian [Meyer] took charge and aren’t allowing this important songwriting institution to fall by the wayside or get swallowed up by gentrification, and, as venues continue to get bought up and shut down, it’s nice to know there’ll still be at least this one that isn’t downtown or on the Eastside. The Laughing Heart guys made me feel really comfortable in there and they loved the song, especially my 2020 edit on it! It was so nice to play live even just for four people.

AnaLee: Thanks for filling us in on what you’ve been up to, Kristina! Now that you’ve whetted our appetites with new music, can you let us in on any details for upcoming releases?

Kristina: Fingers crossed that there might be one more acoustic single release coming this year; possibly as a collaboration. Other than that, I’m hard at work writing and workshopping songs for my third album. Hope to record that LP this winter and have it ready for release next year…but time is mind-bendingly paradoxical, so we’ll see. Thanks so much for having me!

Kristina Murray, “The Great Unknown”

Kristina Murray, “Slow Kill” Live from Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern 

Ana Lee is on middays at WMOT, and is also the host of The Local Brew Hour, which airs Sundays at 7am and Mondays at 7pm on 89.5 WMOT and wmot.org