Hear James McMurtry’s New Americana Masterpiece ‘Complicated Game’
There’s a one-liner that Americana singer-songwriter James McMurtry is fond of delivering onstage — at the core, musicians are really just glorified beer salesmen.
“We’re basically the service industry. We’re symbiotically tied to the club business. Beer sales and tips, you know?” McMurtry tells Rolling Stone Country. “I’ve seen a lot of young bands that think they’re artists and they’re not there to sell beer, but we want to keep the club happy, because if the club goes under we don’t have a gig.”
It’s a cynical observation, which, for the acerbic McMurtry, is in keeping with his character. But it is also a show of solidarity with the hard-working class, be they songwriters and bartenders or the ranchers, fishermen and farmers whose struggles he sings about on his superb new album, Complicated Game. His first studio project in six years, the record will be released February 24th but is now streaming in its entirety on Rolling Stone Country. (Listen to the album below.)
Working for the first time with producer C.C. Adcock, along with producer Mike Napolitano, McMurtry sounds reenergized on the follow-up to 2008’s Just Us Kids. But the Virginia-raised lyricist, who makes his home in Austin, grumbles a laugh when it’s suggested he might even sound happy.
“I worked a little harder on the vocals than I usually do. C.C. brought in a vocal coach from Long Island, who taught me a trick or two, so no doubt it helped,” he says. “I don’t know if it has to do with happiness or just application.”
In fact, it’s McMurtry’s anger that has actually brought him his greatest success. Pissed off at the direction the country was headed under the George W. Bush administration, he wrote the biting “We Can’t Make It Here,” a protest song that documented, among other ills, the exportation of American jobs. It was named Song of the Year at the 2006 Americana Music Awards.
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