In a brilliant economy of words, James McMurtry can bring alive entire characters and expansive landscapes in songs, revealing details down to the crevices in the dried soil, and the contours of a face in the mind’s eye. He’s compiled a body of work that rivals most any other songwriter, and most certainly made his world-renown novelist father—the recently-passed Larry McMurtry—monstrously proud.
Over the last dozen years or so, James McMurtry’s output has slowed down significantly, but if anything, his craft and cunning has only sharpened. That’s how his 2015 album Complicated Game became the Album of the Year on a hardcore country website like this one.
It was announced over two years ago that McMurtry had signed with New West Records. But it’s just now we’re getting word he’ll be releasing his new album on the label called The Horses and the Hounds on August 20th—some seven years after his last release.
“I first became aware of James McMurtry’s formidable songwriting prowess while working at Bug Music publishing in the ’90s,” says New West president John Allen. “He’s a true talent. All of us at New West are excited at the prospect of championing the next phase of James’ already successful and respected career.”
The new album is produced by Ross Hogarth, who helped engineer McMurtry’s first two albums. It also sees McMurtry reuniting with guitarist David Grissom, who played on those first two albums as well. Perhaps trying to tap into some of that early-career magic and energy, the album was recorded at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California.
“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.”
James McMurtry wastes no time spellbinding us with his poetry that transports you straight back to a song’s inspiration, releasing the track “Canola Fields” ahead of the new record. A song inspired by the colors of Canadian agriculture, McMurtry can still use it to deliver lines like, “We met up in Brooklyn before it went hipster. You carried your keys in your fist,” while spirited guitar drives home the melody.
“We’ve traveled back and forth across western Canada at various times of the year. In Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, the fields are chartreuse in late summer, and we long wondered what crop could make such a bright blossom,” McMurtry says of the song. “In the fall, those same fields would be raked into wind rows of some rusty colored substance. Weird machines rolled along scooping up the rows and spitting chaff out the back. We figured it was some kind of seed crop. One day we passed an empty field with a big sign that said, ‘Canola Processing…’ with a phone number. The song formed over time.”
The Horses and the Hounds is now available for pre-order on CD, and on vinyl and colored vinyl.
1. “Canola Fields” (James McMurtry)
2. “If It Don’t Bleed” (James McMurtry)
3. “Operation Never Mind” (James McMurtry)
4. “Jackie” (James McMurtry)
5. “Decent Man” (James McMurtry)
6. “Vaquero” (James McMurtry)
7. “The Horses and the Hounds” (James McMurtry, David Grissom)
8. “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call” (James McMurtry, Daren Hess, Cornbread)
9. “What’s the Matter” (James McMurtry)
10. “Blackberry Winter” (James McMurtry, Ross Hogarth)