McMurtry’s Too Long In the Wasteland, from 1989, was an auspicious debut in more ways than one. Among its 11 original tracks were a few that instantly sounded like standards from a new, original voice. The album was produced by John Mellencamp and utilized his band, which at the time included guitarist David Grissom, who then pulled double duty whenever he was available.
McMurtry continued to refine and develop over the course of six albums, with nuggets like “Levelland,” from Where’d You Hide The Body?. Along the way, he became a more than competent lead guitarist, as he showed while leading his band, the Heartless Bastards, on 2003′s powerful Live In Aught-Three.
On his self-produced eighth outing, his trio is augmented by keyboards, fiddle, additional percussion, and horns. Grissom returns to add guitar texture on some tracks and snaky lead on “Pocatello,” while Tim Holt adds melodic sting to the title track. But McMurtry is his own guitarist for most of the program, adding crunchy, squawky hooks while staying out of the way of the lyrics.
The repertoire ranges from a droning take on the country standard “Ole Slew Foot” (a duet with Joe Ely) to the pointed, dynamic “We Can’t Make It Here,” which was a free download on McMurty’s website during the ’04 presidential campaign. (“Just try it yourself, Mr. CEO/See how far $5.15 an hour will go.”)
Along with fellow Texan Rodney Crowell’s recent work, this ranks as one of the most provocative, ante-upping CDs to come along in a long time.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.