James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds Music Album Reviews

James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds Music Album Reviews
On his expertly written 10th album, the Texas storyteller delivers some of his most intense and humane work.

James McMurtry stands out even among the Lone Star State’s finest songwriters, a community of artists known for the local color that saturates their story-songs. Much like his old man, the late novelist Larry McMurtry, he’s a fiction writer rather than a confessionalist: He just so happens to choose heartland rock as a vehicle for his tales of Americans at their lowest, searching for a fast buck, a little salvation, or maybe just a quiet moment to get their hearts in order. He crams his songs full of vivid details, the kind that many other writers might not even think up but that create a sense of a larger world outside the song.

Take “Jackie,” a heartbreaker from his 10th studio album, The Horses and the Hounds. After a melancholy electric guitar intro that sounds like the beginnings of an ice storm, the song opens with McMurtry describing a plot of land: “Half a section in the short grass at the foot of the plains/Grows broomweed in the dry times and ragweed when it rains.” McMurtry savors those plant names, not just the specificity of species but the sound of those compound words, setting up a story about a woman who risks her life to keep a horse ranch afloat; it ends with the image of a white cross on another nameless piece of land.

More than 30 years after his debut, 1989’s Too Long in the Wasteland, McMurtry has become what’s known as a songwriter’s songwriter: someone whose facility with words and influence on other artists far outstrip his mainstream notoriety and album sales. On The Horses and the Hounds, he homes in on his favorite subjects, with hardscrabble songs about good people at bad extremes, the disintegration of small towns in flyover America, and the corruption of corporations during times of war. Maybe it’s the snappy production courtesy of Ross Hogarth or maybe it’s the new perspective afforded by the six-year gap between albums, but McMurtry sounds more engaged here, more focused, and more generous to his hard-luck characters.

Even in his saddest and angriest songs, McMurtry takes obvious pleasure in choosing just the right detail. On “Decent Man,” inspired by a short story by Wendell Berry, he spins a yarn about a man who commits a hasty murder and the daughter whose devotion still confounds him. McMurtry makes you smell the gunsmoke in the air, just as he makes you feel the bone-deep regret of the narrator. “When you’re shooting at a coffee can, a .38 don’t kick that bad/But it kicks right through my bones every second of every day.”

Working with members of McMurtry’s touring band and a small crew of session musicians, Hogarth brings some rock’n’roll crunch to the guitars on the title track and “Blackberry Winter” and some cinematic drama to “Jackie” and “Vaquero.” But most of all, you can hear Hogarth’s touch in the vocals. McMurtry has never been burdened with much range or power, but he’s cultivated a barbed deadpan delivery that suits his storytelling. His voice trips over the rhythmic patter of “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call,” the best song ever written about checking into a hotel with Fox News blaring in the lobby. On opener “Canola Fields,” he conveys a sense of joy so uncomplicated that it sounds cathartic, as though his narrator is relieved to find a happy memory to turn over in his head.

None of these ideas are new for McMurtry, but they do sound more intense on The Hounds & the Horses. The best and most humane moments are those when you can hear him simply breathe between lines: Hogarth engineered the microphones to pick up every nuance in his voice, which means you can often hear McMurtry inhale before a lyric and exhale afterwards. It adds a precarious quality to the words, as though he must steel himself to impart bad news. That quality makes a song like “Jackie” sound all the more tragic. “How it ended that bad, we can wonder all day,” he sings, drawing out that last syllable like he’s struggling to maintain his composure. He makes the character sound like an old friend, lifting her tragedy out of the song and into the everyday world.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds Music Album Reviews James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 01, 2021 Rating: 5


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