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James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds (2021) [Official Digital Download 24bit/96kHz]

James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/96kHz | Time – 47:18 minutes | 949 MB | Genre: Country
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © New West Records

In James McMurtry’s new effort, The Horses and the Hounds, the acclaimed songwriter backs personal narratives with effortless elegance (“Canola Fields”) and endless energy (“If It Don’t Bleed”). This first collection in seven years spotlights a seasoned tunesmith in peak form as he turns toward reflection (“Vaquero”) and revelation (closer “Blackberry Winter”). Familiar foundations guide the journey. “There’s a definite Los Angeles vibe to this record,” McMurtry says. “The ghost of Warren Zevon seems to be stomping around among the guitar tracks. Don’t know how he got in there. He never signed on for work for hire.”

The Horses and the Hounds is a reunion of sorts. McMurtry recorded the new album with legendary producer Ross Hogarth (Ozzy Osbourne, John Fogerty, Van Halen, Keb’ Mo’) at Jackson Browne’s Groovemaster’s in Santa Monica, California. Hogarth recorded McMurtry’s first two albums, Too Long in the Wasteland and Candyland and later mixed McMurtry’s first self-produced album, Saint Mary of the Woods. Another veteran of those three releases, guitarist David Grissom (Joe Ely, John Mellencamp, Dixie Chicks), returns with some of his finest work.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that James McMurtry, son of novelist Larry “Lonesome Dove” McMurtry, continues his excellent storytelling on his 12th album. In another life, McMurtry could have been a straight poet, one prone like his dad to getting up and giving readings of his lyrical brilliance. While his father’s fame has certainly assisted his career, this McMurtry has the music in him, a true folkie with rock and roll tendencies. The Texas troubadour’s specialty is detailed miniatures, populated with flawed but finely drawn characters, some of whom clearly draw on incidents and characters from his own life.

On The Horses and The Hounds, McMurtry has assembled an A team of the great David Grissom (Joe Ely, John Mellencamp, Dixie Chicks) and Charlie Sexton, who’s spent much of the last decade playing with Bob Dylan. The lyrical flourishes begin immediately in the travelogue opener where he moves from canola fields in Southern Alberta, through the suicide doors on his old, white Lincoln in Santa Cruz, to “Brooklyn before it went hipster.” In “Jackie,” about a doomed female trucker, he turns a discussion of everyday ground cover into gold with this choppy but musical couplet of Great Plains versification: “Half a section in the short grass at the foot of the plains/ Grows broomweed in the dry times, ragweed when it rains.” The inevitable cowboy ode, “Vaquero,” sung partially in Spanish, benefits from fellow Texan scion Bukka Allen (son of Terry) on accordion. While guitars move to the front of the mix in the title track, the road song “What’s The Matter” where “Blood pressure’s up, I gotta take pills/ If the food don’t kill me, the alcohol will,” is the album’s bouncy, upbeat single. Fortunately, McMurtry’s intricate tales of human emotional entanglement are so engrossing that the similar slow ballad-like tempos of everything here are almost unnoticeable. Producer Ross Hogarth whose extensive discography-much of it as an engineer-includes work with everyone from C’eline Dion to Van Halen, brings a simple uncomplicated sound to the proceedings. McMurtry’s personal and neverending story continues with style. – Robert Baird

1. Canola Fields (04:49)
2. If It Don’t Bleed (03:50)
3. Operation Never Mind (04:34)
4. Jackie (05:07)
5. Decent Man (04:48)
6. Vaquero (04:41)
7. The Horses and the Hounds (04:38)
8. Ft. Walton Wake – Up Call (05:16)
9. What’s the Matter (04:26)
10. Blackberry Winter (05:09)


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