Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

James McMurtry / Terry Allen / Gurf Morlix


James McMurtry: Complicated Game

(Complicated Game)

McMurtry has the musical limitations you’d expect of a singer-songwriter whose loud declaratives pound away over a beat designed for a guy who “can’t dance a lick.” But this time you should definitely live with them — of the dozen songs on his first album since 2008, the two that are less than compelling come close, and half are superb. The struggling-class portraiture this Texan makes his specialty relocates to South Dakota, Virginia, Florida, and comfier Long Island, whence an Oklahoman salaryman reports: “When the 5:30 rush hits the Cross Island Parkway/It’s not for the squeamish or the gentle of heart.” One of the four love songs painfully rekindles an old flame, while the rest address a single fine piece of work: a handy bartender who writes better prose than the writer she loves and who, as per an agreement the writer never thought would go into effect, makes do with a Harley-riding parking lot attendant while he’s away on tour. Two others reflect on the singer’s existential inadequacies, including a finale called “Cutter” I find less than compelling only when I can’t feel the knife focusing the pain in one spot so I can get to sleep. A

Terry Allen: Bottom of the World

(self-released)

I bought this on the strength of one astonishing song: “Emergency Human Blood Courier,” which isn’t just what the title makes you hope because the title can’t make you hope enough — five minutes that hit harder than any hour of, just as a for instance, The Bridge. Elsewhere the singer-songwriter cum painter-installment artist holds forth with his usual droll soul about a dead dog, a dead banker, a boat, movies, and angels, the last-named twice if you count “Do They Dream of Hell in Heaven,” which you should. A MINUS


Gurf Morlix: Eatin’ at Me (Rootball) One of those guitarists whose songs aren’t quite sharp enough to make you love his grizzled handshake of a voice — but believe it, they’re getting closer (“Dirty Old Buffalo,” “50 Years”) ***


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