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Just Us Kids (Bonus Track Version)

James McMurtry

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Album Review

The further James McMurtry gets from the big leagues of the music business, the better it seems to be for his music. McMurtry was still finding his feet as a recording artist with his first three albums for Columbia, and just began hitting a groove when he signed with the independent Sugar Hill label. Now recording for a renegade start-up label called Lightning Rod Records, McMurtry has cut what may well be his best and most consistently interesting album to date, Just Us Kids, a dozen songs clearly informed by the American malaise of the first few years of the 21st century and the disillusion over the ongoing war in Iraq. While the war is rarely mentioned by name, there's no disguising the source behind the bitter, mordant wit of "Cheney's Toy" and "God Bless America," just as "Hurricane Party" captures the devastation of Katrina without belaboring what we've all seen on the news. Even when the specific tragedies of recent years don't figure into the songs, the aging rebels turned working stiffs of the title cut, the couple struggling to make their lives and relationship work in "Ruby and Carlos," and the drifter with a shaky sense of her own history in "Fire Line Road" are characters whose lives have been battered by the circumstances of the past seven years. As a performer, McMurtry still doesn't possess the most expressive voice in American music, but his lean, plain-spoken drawl has gained a wealth of nuance in recent years, communicating a laconic swagger, an ominous air of menace, or a simple acceptance of the quirks of fate with wisdom and clarity. McMurtry also produced Just Us Kids, and the spare, funky growl of this rootsy rock & roll is a perfect match for the tone of these songs, a sound that's thoroughly American while conjuring the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Just Us Kids is an album very much of its time that also speaks to the larger ideas of life in America in an uncertain age, and it's brave, smart, and pithy music that captures James McMurtry at the top of his game.

Customer Reviews

F*#@ BUSH

Nobody writes a protest song quite like James McMurtry. He is particulary good at slamming Dubwa. James McMurtry is from Texas, so hearing him bash Bush in a Texas drawl is quite rewarding. "Just Us Kids" has three protest songs like that. "God Bless America" and "Cheney's Toy" are straight up rants against Iraq. "Hurricane Party" is a more subtle dig about Katrina. Some might say that McMurtry is dating his music by putting such overt references about the current political situation in his songs, but there is a certain guilty pleasure in hearing things said straight up with no spin. On the lighter side, "Just us Kids" is an upbeat number about aging after a rebellious youth. McMurtry also writes dead on slice of life songs like "Ruby and Carlos", about a May-Decmber romance, and "Fire Line Road", about a child dealing with a abusive situation. A little country for some, but a great album. A more than worthy follow up to "Childish Things".

Another Winner in a Long Line of Winners

McMurtry is one of the great, literary Texas songwriters in a long line of like-minded artists from the Lone Star State (i.e. Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, et cetera). Here, McMurtry delivers another gem. Pop this one open and let it decant. Live with it over six or seven plays and see how it breathes and opens up. This time through, McMurtry surrounds himself with some of Austin's finest musicians, including Brit ex-pat, Ian MacLagan (Faces, Small Faces) and Jon Dee Graham (True Believers). And listen for the Heartless Bastards, McMurtry's long time, tight rhythm section, holding down the fort.

Like the sound, but lose the trite politics

James McMurty has that great sound again. However, some of the protest lyrics are getting a little old and are far from original (or thoughtful). Most of his biggest fans expect MORE. James, we get you dont like the current administration, but that is not news to most people and in this fan's opinion it DEGRADES your music. Us fans expect deeper thinking from one of our favorite artists than "uhh, the war is bad," or "bush likes rich people," or "Cheney likes to pose in front of cameras." In addition to those being superficial, false points of view, they fail to convey the deep insight that we expect from James. I have concluded that political commentary is not for McMurtry and I hope I can urge him to avoid the heavy spin and deep hatred that persists in this type of political "thought" (unthoughtful thought?). Stay away from the hate and the politics James, leave the politics to the politicians, and tell us more about the deep nuance you see in everyday life.

Biography

Born: March 18, 1962 in Fort Worth, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Texas singer/songwriter James McMurtry, known for his hard-edged character sketches, comes from a literary family; his father, novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, gave James his first guitar at age seven, and his mother, an English professor, taught him how to play it. McMurtry began performing his own songs while a student at the University of Arizona and continued to do so after returning home and taking a job as a bartender. When it transpired that a film script McMurtry's father had written...
Full Bio

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