Yes, imaginary friends, it’s another Summer Sunday Flashback: tweak of my ancient Voice piece, orig pub. ’08:
Make It Here
Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod)
“We Can’t Make It Here,” the relentlessly calm, guitar-and-kickdrum-powered opener of James McMurtry’s 2005 album, Childish Things, was also the first shot of local-to-state o’ the nation plainspeak across this veteran singer-songwriter-bandleader’s always-handy panorama of Lone Star skies and neon highway lifelines, where he’s long been rocking us through “Choctaw Bingo” and so on. McMurtry’s new Just Us Kids is mostly up to his standards, though the title track is uncharacteristically maudlin, and the hyped first single, “Cheney’s Toy,” doesn’t achieve liftoff from raised expectations. Oh, it’s expertly droning, buzzing torture—appropriate for its subject, but duh. Why bother with such an easy target, especially since his characters have always struggled with the personal politics of need and greed, dust and lust. Less obviously, “Hurricane Party” just adjusts itself around a guitar riff, more like a twisted cable bouncing off the walls out there, but no one in here does likewise—no more “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow—” Nah podner, it’s another settling-down round of stories that somehow got this far, smoke ’em if you got ’em—what else can we do, at this point (not really a question anymore, that goes without saying, as long as there’s music). It’s a catchy little bend alright. Meanwhile, out along “Fireline Road,” a junkie’s shovel-blade epitaph/mile marker reads: “She couldn’t even feel bad, without the stuff.” Kissin’ cousin to that fella with a “Freeway View,” finally back in the game, and swept away by the piano-reeling feeling that he might still win or lose. Ditto, basically, the more cautious citizen in “You’d a’ Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die),” which takes hold in a Cohenesque, slippery way; plus, McMurtry can make it from a moan to a wail, while Cohen can’t.
McM. always goes for the right detail, musically and verbally, while sometimes getting fixated and/or spelling things out too much But he wants to poke us, not spoonfeed, and these ain’t no purtyfied parties, bub. He’s always here to try to twist reality’s wires some more, just so, and leave a little room to move. “You’d a’ thought we’d know better by now.”