JAMES MCMURTRY - COMPLICATED GAME

James McMurtry (from the album Complicated Game) - Sometimes life can be a complicated game and few tell the story as clearly as James McMurtry. His sharp-eyed lyricism and simple delivery are a pleasure to behold, the work of an artist completely at home with his muse. There are three central themes on this record of stories about the human condition, arduous though it may be. First, there’s love or, perhaps more accurately, the ever oscillating energy of love that includes falling in it, wondering where it’s gone and hitting the road to find it. McMurtry opens the record with this line: “Honey, don’t be yelling at me while I’m cleaning my gun.”

The magnitude of those words -- powerful and perturbing -- are irresistible, an invitation to find out exactly what happened at the “Copper Canteen.” That she’ll “spend a dollar quick as a dime,” goes “commando most all of the time” and writes prose that’s “better than mine” are the mysteries he’s uncovered on “These Things I’ve Come To Know.” Somewhere between a limousine party and a weekend away, she captured his fancy on “You Got To Me.” And then “She Loves Me,” he says, though with that comes the expectation that she’ll be remembered, “as a pretty woman will.”

Second, there’s travel, the need of a restless man to see the far corners of the world or, at least, cross the roads and rivers of his own country. In “Ain’t Got A Place,” the skies are taller in Louisiana and wider in New Mexico (and rivers run East out of West Virginia). “Forgotten Coast” is pure escapism but, sometimes, travel includes family, as it does on “Long Island Sound.”

Finally, there’s man’s complicated relationship with the ever-idiosyncratic Mother Nature, another woman who exerts a powerful force in his life. Among the tunes that speak of that complicated game, the fisherman’s story of “Carlisle’s Haul” stands out and the legend of a veteran making his way on the rancher’s homestead is told achingly well in “South Dakota.” Delivered in a voice unvarnished and a style simplistic, these are tunes that capture the intricacies of human existence in all their fine and flawed form, a bit like a Steinbeck on a CD. (by Michael Verity)

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