James McMurtry - Complicated Game
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Complicated Game (Complicated Game, 2015)

James McMurtry

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

The first album by James McMurtry in six years proves that some simply get better with age. And it opens with a gorgeous, deliberate performance, "Copper Canteen," and a line about cleaning his gun before hunting season comes to a close. From there, McMurtry looks back at his youth and the changing world today "before the pension kicks in."

Thankfully, the singer never falters from that high standard he set for himself on the leadoff tune. "You Got To Me" sounds as if it's a tune that Drive-By Truckers would kill for as some nifty organ (and a barroom piano) accents the song's foundation. But as with most of the album, it's McMurtry fine wording and simple, sparse arrangements which draws the listener in as is the case with "Ain't Got A Place," which breezily hops around different American locales with the singer unable to put down roots.

Despite one early number that sounds more like a pop songwriting 101 exercise complete with doo-wop harmonies, McMurtry continues to shine. "How I'm Gonna Find You Now" has a far more urgent vibe through it. Here he also comes off as the elder statesman of Americana rap, rambling through the lines with zest and plenty of groove. Yet that's quickly surpassed with a slice of Kristofferson-esque style that makes "These Things I've Come To Know" swaying in your chair if not later waltzing around the living room with your better half.

Another jewel in this ridiculous array of quality is "Carlisle's Haul," which has a slight hint of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" in the guitar playing in the opening moments prior to the chorus. The simple ditty "Forgotten Coast" instantly brings to mind Dire Straits "The Bug." Unfortunately, in this case, McMurtry's song is the bug and not exactly the windshield. A finer piece appears on the haunting, Celtic-soaked "Long Island Sound" as McMurtry talks about watching boats "with their snowy white sails" and mundane vignettes. Think of a distant but credible musical cousin of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."

McMurtry puts a lovely bow on this dozen-song effort with "Cutter." An extremely engrossing and enriching album and an early fave for year end lists.

CDs by James McMurtry

The Horses and The Hound, 2021 Complicated Game, 2015 Live in Europe, 2009 Just Us Kids, 2008 Childish Things, 2005

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