Rhythm & Views

James McMurtry

If you like your rock music served up with a healthy dose of political protest, Lou Reed-style lyric delivery and Springsteen-esque guitar, then you need to get your ears hooked into James McMurtry. Just Us Kids, McMurtry's ninth full-length, activates the scathing and sensitive simultaneously.

"Cheney's Toy" is a perfect example of McMurtry's ability to be both harsh and sympathetic, even in the same song. In this case, he's sympathetic toward "another unknown soldier" who "can't see for the shrapnel in his brain." And the harsh is obvious: "They'll take a fork and turn you over," McMurtry sings, equating the president with an overcooked piece of meat--a metaphor that seems incredibly poignant these days.

On "The Governor," when McMurtry asks, "Does the governor know who killed the fisherman?" the song becomes immediately allegorical. "Fire Line Road" tells the all-too-common story of one Alice Walker--trapped on Fire Line Road with an abusive father and a strung-out sister--who dreams of losing herself in "some finer place." It's the kind of song that's so well-written that it's as powerful coming from the mouth of male McMurtry as it would be coming from the mouth of Emmylou Harris--actually, every song on Just Us Kids is powerfully written, a dozen delicious tracks of traditional rock 'n' roll done right.

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