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Published: 2015/10/06
by Ron Hart

James McMurtry
Complicated Game

Besides releasing his classic album Big Daddy, the other great thing John Mellencamp did in 1989 was produce Too Long in the Wasteland, the debut album from James McMurtry, one of the finest talents to emerge from the robust Austin, TX, music scene. The artist formerly known as Cougar was working on the 1992 film Falling From Grace at the time, which was written by the singer’s father, acclaimed American novelist Larry McMurtry ( Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain ), thus giving young James the opportunity to slip the Heartland rock icon a demo tape. A quarter century later, McMurtry is one of the most well-respected artists on the alt-country circuit, finding himself in the same position Mellencamp was back in ’89 with the release of his 10th studio album. And, like Big Daddy, the self-released Complicated Game, too, finds McMurtry at the top of his craft as Mellencamp was back in the Big Daddy era. Indeed, there is something about these twelve new tracks that feels like a high water mark in the career of a man Stephen King has hailed as “possibly the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation.” The album certainly is a contrast to its predecessor, 2008’s electrified Just Kids, in that its largely constructed from acoustic instruments as McMurtry eschews the politics and amplification of his past endeavors to go long on the kind of easygoing acoustic transcendence that really brings out his mastery for description and setting in his songs. “Headed into town gonna meet you at the mercantile,” he sings on the album’s lead single “How’m I Gonna Find You Now”. “Take you to the Sonic get you grinning like a crocodile.” Meanwhile, songs like “Carlisle’s Haul,” “South Dakota” and “Long Island Sound” further utilize the acoustic format to expand McMurtry’s scope not only as a songwriter but a top-tier musician as well who’s just as quick to cut you down to size with a banjo as he would an electric guitar. Many are calling Complicated Game the best album of McMurtry’s career. Sounds about right to me.

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