9 p.m. Friday, May 7
AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., 218-5778; www.marignytheatre.org
Loren Murrell's story is written in ink — on his arms. There is the minotaur, a tribute to his mother's side of the family, which is Greek; and the treasure map, a reference to his father's English ancestors, pirates who patrolled the Gulf Coast.
Then there is the piano that climbs up Murrell's right bicep, winding black and white keys that dissolve just below his shoulder into freehand outlines. "The piano was first," he says. "This is the piano I grew up playing, my dad's piano that he got for my sister. ... I'm going to make sure that I have all 88 keys."
It's now more common to see him with a guitar slung over that shoulder, either busking around his Bywater neighborhood or strumming a solo set at the Circle Bar, where, on Sunday nights, he and Silent Cinema frontman Micah McKee have held an open mic-type residency with sundry singer/songwriter friends for more than two years.
After scouting New Orleans for a few months in early 2008, Murrell moved here from his native Michigan in February 2009. "The day I got off the train was a Sunday," he recalls. "I moved all my shit into my new apartment and went straight to the Circle Bar. Traipsed in with my guitar, plugged in and started playing."
His first stint in the city had resulted in a vast catalog of material. "There were three months where every day I wrote a song," he says. The most cohesive dozen became I Dream of Feudalism, a densely orchestrated, richly harmonized concept album about romance, both with a new city and with two women. The LP begins with Murrell's arrival in New Orleans in one relationship ("Springtime") and ends with his departure in another ("Honeymoon in Los Angeles"). He plays every instrument and sings every note on it.
"Piano, accordion, banjo, guitar," Murrell counts off. "Table percussion, tambourine, shaking my keys, whatever. ... Every single thing on that record — except for ['Aaron's Anthem'], I didn't do the whistling. I can't do the whistling."
Feudalism's lush sound stands in contrast to its live interpretation, which typically consists of only acoustic guitar and Murrell's expressive, vaguely androgynous vocals. That's all set to change on his next collection, a fall release he will record in Austin in June — the result of an impromptu performance at the Yellow Moon Bar for friends of recording engineer Nick Taplin. "I've never recorded an album with a full band," Murrell says. "Nick's putting a band together in Austin. I'm sending him demos."
Murrell will preview those tracks at Friday's tour kickoff at the AllWays Lounge, in the form of a big-band arrangement (featuring McKee and Silent Cinema drummer Bret Bohnet) and a four-song tour EP. The latter features what may be Murrell's finest composition to date: a slow-building folk ballad called "The Colors." "I confuse your picture with a painting," he sings over handclaps and a gorgeous, simple flicked guitar figure. Naturally, he says, it's about tattoos.
Just as Feudalism tackled the "catharsis and metamorphosis" of Murrell's first two New Orleans relationships, the Colors LP will be autobiographical too, beginning with "Who Is This Man," a song written from the perspective of the woman who picked him up from the train station that Sunday, and moving through Murrell's second life in the city — one that's still being written.
"This new album, I want it to have that same continuity," he says. "It's going to start with, 'I'm back in New Orleans.' And now what? That's how it's going to end."