Minimalist Non-Beauty from Texas

Saint Mary of the Woods (Sugar Hill)
James McMurtry

By Kory Wilcoxson

No one is ever going to call James McMurtry's music beautiful. His songs are gruff, gritted out between drinks of whiskey on beat-up guitars. His lyrics are insightful, one person's perspective on the magic and mess of life. In that sense, his music is more than beautiful; it's real.

McMurtry continues his excellent songwriting tradition on "Saint Mary." McMurtry is at his best when singing about unrealized potential ("Valley Road") and unfulfilled love ("Dry River"). He's a minimalist at heart, showing us just enough through his words for us to engage him with our own imaginations. He backs his stories with grounded Tex-Mex country rock, adding to the flavor of the experience.

"Saint Mary" is especially fine when it presents slice-of-life stories, like the run-on sentence romp of "Choctaw Bingo." McMurtry even mixes in some wry humor on "Gone to the Y," a song about a Christian marital tussle: "Soon as I get my hands on him/he's gonna wish he'd never been born again." And his social commentary on "Out Here in the Middle" is as humorous as it is discouraging.

That's pure McMurtry, making you laugh, loathe and reminisce all at the same time. Not all of the songs on "Saint Mary" live up to the standard McMurtry has set; regardless, "Saint Mary" carries on McMurtry beautiful legacy.