Austin troubadour James McMurtry returns with new album 'The Horses and the Hounds'
Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists.
James McMurtry, “The Horses and the Hounds” (New West). One of Austin’s most respected and accomplished songwriters since his 1989 debut album “Too Long in the Wasteland,” McMurtry has slowed his recorded output considerably in the past decade. This is just his second studio album since 2008, after he’d released eight in the previous 20 years.
But quality counts more than quantity. “The Horses and the Hounds” ranks with the best records of McMurtry’s career, though that’s partly because almost everything he’s ever released has cleared a high bar. It’s also fair game for artists to record less frequently in a 21st-century music biz model that devalued recordings and required artists to make ends meet primarily through live gigs.
McMurtry has always done plenty of that, supplementing weekly gigs at the Continental Club and Gallery with frequent national tours. When the pandemic put all of that on hold, he took to livestreams, drawing a steady and devoted audience of online viewers to his virtual concerts.
“The Horses and the Hounds” was recorded primarily in Los Angeles at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio, with additional tracking at Austin’s Arlyn Studios and the Zone in Dripping Springs. Renowned producer-engineer Ross Hogarth, who worked on McMurtry’s John Mellencamp-produced debut album 32 years ago, cleanly captures both the rock & roll energy and songwriting detail that are equally central to McMurtry’s musical identity.
Guitarist David Grissom, another key presence on that first record, returns here, teaming with fellow Austinite Charlie Sexton to help ground this record in standout guitar work that supports but never overshines the songs. Many other local musicians also appear, including keyboardists Bukka Allen and Red Young plus a backing vocal trio of Akina Adderley, BettySoo and Harmoni Kelley.
Also essential is McMurtry’s longtime drummer Daren Hess, who anchors the rhythm section and gets a co-writing credit on the track “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call.” That’s perhaps the album’s most intriguing track: McMurtry delivers the lyrics in a fast-paced, spoken-word manner that borrows from hip-hop, underscoring the acerbic bite of its lyrics.
As always, McMurtry’s songs here are character sketches more than personal confessionals, touching on the political but emphasizing the personal. Opener “Canola Fields” immediately joins the ranks of his best songs, a midlife-crisis reckoning in which the narrator celebrates that he’s “cashing in on a 30-year crush — you can’t be young and do that.”
Other standouts include “If It Don’t Bleed,” its title inspired by a hard-living cousin who once told McMurtry, “If it don’t bleed, it don’t matter”; “Vaquero,” a slow-burning waltz that mixes English and Spanish lyrics; and “What’s the Matter,” an incendiary blues-rocker chronicling the desperation of a musician on the road dealing with crises back home. Mostly, though, what stands out about “The Horses and the Hounds” is how uniformly strong these songs are, from start to finish. Here’s “Canola Fields”:
William Harries Graham, “Plainfield Tapes” EP. A longtime opener for McMurtry and his father Jon Dee Graham on Wednesdays at the Continental Club pre-pandemic, Graham recorded these four intimate songs in a Vermont garage studio. Almost all the instrumentation here comes from Graham, save for piano contributions by Cameron Riggs on two songs. Here’s the video for the track “Autumn”:
Belle Sounds, “All About Love” EP. Following a productive 2020 in which they released a single every month (gathered on the recent collection “Stay Alive”), the pop band of husband and wife Noëlle Hampton and André Moran returns with this five-song set that, as its title suggests, focuses on songs and themes of love. Recorded at local studios Congress House and Guest Room, the EP features contributions by the couple’s Belle Sounds bandmates Emily Shirley on keyboards and Greg Hagen on bass, plus guest contributions from Daniel Creamer on synthesizers and drummers Danny Reisch and Evan Hutchings. Here’s the track “Crush”:
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AUG. 27: Alejandro Escovedo, “La Cruzada”
AUG. 27: Blk Odyssy, “Blk Vintage,” playing Oct. 10 at ACL Fest
AUG. 27: Bob Schneider, “In a Room Full of Blood With a Sleeping Tiger”
AUG. 27: Altin Sencalar, “Reconnected” (Next Level), release show Aug. 27 at East Austin Piano Shop
AUG. 27: Suzanne Santo, “Yard Sale,” release show Aug. 26 at Antone’s
SEPT. 3: Joe King Carrasco y Colectivo Chihuahua, “Beers, Bars & Guitars”
SEPT. 3: Terri Hendrix, “Pilgrim's Progress Project 5.5”
SEPT. 3: David Beck, “Good Nature”
SEPT. 10: Heartless Bastards, “A Beautiful Life” (Unknown/Thirty Tigers), playing Friday at C-Boy’s and Saturdays at Continental Club throughout August
SEPT. 10: Chris Beall, “Abilene”
SEPT. 17: Rod Gator, “For Louisiana” (Blue Elan), release show Sept. 17 at Far Out Lounge
SEPT. 24: Tony Kamel, “Back Down Home” (Next Waltz)
OCT. 8: Carolyn Wonderland, “Tempting Fate” (Alligator)
OCT. 15: Buffalo Nichols, self-titled (Fat Possum)
OCT. 22: Sue Foley, “Pinky’s Blues”
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