Brattleboro musician Keith Murphy will perform his latest album at Next Stage in Putney.
Yann Falquet/Courtesy photo
Brattleboro musician Keith Murphy will perform his latest album at Next Stage in Putney.

Music that’s ‘much more part of the public consciousness’

Keith Murphy of Brattleboro brings together a special band to stage a live performance of his latest album of traditional folk songs

PUTNEY-Keith Murphy's latest release, Bright as Amber, self-released nearly one year ago, will be played in its entirety by a special band of musicians for its debut performance at Next Stage Arts.

For many years, the artist, who has lived in Brattleboro for 30 years, has been "forging a distinctive sound in the world of traditional song."

Murphy grew up in Newfoundland surrounded by the rich musical traditions of the British Isles.

"The songs that I often sing are songs from the British Isles or from Ireland; songs that were passed down from generations through families; songs that have come to the New World with immigrants. Some of these songs are hundreds of years old and have changed over the course of time," Murphy says.

"I grew up in Newfoundland and this kind of music is much more part of the public consciousness," he adds. "Everybody growing up in Newfoundland is aware of and sings a certain repertoire of traditional songs."

He recalls as a very young child looking to see if he could find a piano in the house he was visiting, until one day his parents decided that he was serious enough about it that they got him one.

"Very soon after that, I started playing guitar," he says. "I took piano lessons starting quite young, and I took some guitar lessons at a local YMCA."

The noted instrumentalist is well-known for playing with Nightingale, Childsplay (a fiddle orchestra), Revels (a musical production in Boston), the late Tony Barrand, Hanneke Cassel, Yann Falquet, and his most enduring collaborator, Becky Tracy - his wife, a renowned fiddler and music teacher.

Over the course of his travels, he has incorporated elements of many other traditions, including the music of Windham County.

A new instrumental lineup

After three acoustic-based solo recordings, Murphy turned to a new instrumental lineup for Bright as Amber. The album incorporates bass, drums, and electric guitar over his finger-style acoustic guitar and singing of old songs.

Bringing this sound to Next Stage will be a band of talent: Anand Nayak (Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem), a Grammy-nominated producer and multi-instrumentalist who crafts sensitive and atmospheric textures on electric guitar; drummer Richie Barshay, who has played with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Natalie Merchant, and Bobby McFerrin and who is a member of the Klezmatics; and Ty Gibbons, an acclaimed composer for film and television and a member of the Vermont indie folk band Red Heart the Ticker.

As an acoustic bass player, he melds an understanding of traditional folk song with his other musical talents.

"I did work with the electric guitar player, Anand. I found the collection of songs and worked up the essential foundation of the songs. I wasn't trying to go down a new path. I played a concert six years ago where Anand came and he sat in for a few songs. It was a beautiful experience," recalls Murphy.

"I started thinking about this project during the pandemic, and I could work on it remotely. So I sent those songs to Anand, and we began working on those songs."

After Nyack would record some electric guitar parts, the musicians would discuss the songs and go through another round of recording.

"And then I found a bass player and went through that same process, and then the drummer," Murphy says. "I was producing and directing the project. It was very much a pandemic internet-based project - working with people remotely," says Murphy.

One of the songs on the album, "Un Canadien Errant," is a folk song that Murphy has been singing for a long time.

The first song on the album, "Tarry Trousers," is a song that he developed as he was looking around for songs.

"I go through different phases when I develop a song, looking through old folk song collections, looking for words that speak to me, certain melodies; in terms of my own accompaniment with my guitar to see what I can bring to the song, a certain mood or texture," says Murphy.

"I coalesced over six songs for the album. I worked on them so much that it became almost like a suite of songs; they all flow one into the other," he adds.

The album takes its name from one track, "Reynardine," a famous old folk song that Murphy used to sing with Barrand, a local singing icon who died in 2022.

"It was one of our favorite songs to do. It was Tony and I singing harmony together," he says.

"It was a huge loss when Tony passed away. I felt a very strong association with Tony when I thought about 'Reynardine' and I wanted to keep that song in my repertoire. I always think about Tony when I sing it," adds Murphy.

Next Stage Arts Production & Programming Director and Twilight Music's Barry Stockwell has booked Murphy's various musical projects at a handful of southern Vermont venues for nearly 20 years.

In a recent email to The Commons, he describes Murphy as "an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and singer who has been foundational in building the regional acoustic music scene."

Stockwell promises that the concert will "showcase how Keith continues to expand his musical palette."

Northern Roots Festival

Murphy is also the founder and artistic director of the Brattleboro Music Center's Northern Roots Festival, which takes place yearly the last weekend in January.

"Becky [Tracy] and I have been teaching at BMC for 17 years," he says.

To add to BMC's established traditional music programs "we started a kids' camp, an adult music weekend in the summer, and the Northern Roots Festival," notes Murphy.

The festival has been going strong since 2007 and features very traditional Irish and French Canadian instrumental music and singing.

"Our own traditional music community here is getting stronger every year," Murphy says. "All of those things have made this a success."

The festival features 12 to 15 musicians and dancers who teach workshops and lead performance sessions.

"This year, our big concert sold out with over 200 attendees," he says.

Part of the reason Murphy moved to Brattleboro was the richness in the arts community - specifically, the traditional music community.

"Even when we moved here 30 years ago it was very rich in the dance and music scene," he says. "It's continued to grow so much."

For Murphy, it's the best of both worlds: "a great sense of connection with people, yet also such a wide range of artistic output to enjoy. "

"It's a place with a strong sense of community, but artistically very rich," he says.

* * *

Next Stage Arts and Twilight Music present an album release concert of Keith Murphy's Bright as Amber on Friday, June 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Next Stage Arts, with Murphy and his special band. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.Next Stage is at 15 Kimball Hill in Putney. Tickets are $25 ($20 in advance; $10, livestream).

For advance tickets and information, visit or call 802-387-0102

For more information on Keith Murphy and Becky Tracy, visit

This Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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