James McMurtry
The Horses and the Hounds


4.0
excellent

Review

by Sunnyvale STAFF
August 24th, 2021 | 81 replies


Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The stock example of an excellent Americana record in 2021

Singer-songwriter James McMurtry operates in the same country/folk/Americana space occupied by such figures as John Hiatt, Robert Earl Keen, and the late great John Prine. These men have acquired revered reputations within smaller audiences and among critics (and in the case of Prine, true status as a legend). McMurtry himself is younger than the other three mentioned, but is now fifty-nine and with his latest album, The Horses And The Hounds , has confidently demonstrated that he should be regarded as both an elder statesman and the mark to beat within the contemporary scene. While often low-key, the songs here remarkably reveal McMurtry’s quiet mastery of his material.

Discussion of this record can’t proceed without an ode to the opener, “Canola Fields”. In a little less than five minutes, McMurtry fuses everything great about this brand of Americana into an understated all-time classic tune. The combination of jangling guitar, nostalgic and deeply touching lyrics which feel true to one’s very bones, and the desperate sing-along chorus leave nothing more to ask for. While this is the best song on offer here, it’s to the album’s great credit that several other contenders come close to its quality.

The second song, “If It Don’t Bleed” provides a better preview for the rest of the album, more of a firecracker country-rock track. Indeed, most of the songs here lean harder towards roots and blues rock than one might expect, although country and folk are clearly present as well, and there’s a satisfying variety within the tracklist. The punchy title track and “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call”, which approaches the ever-dangerous territory of country-rap but ends up being impressively entertaining, are some of the more sonically vibrant offerings. Throughout, the lyrics are top-notch, ranging from more intimate character portraits like the heart-wrenching “Jackie” to the biting social commentary of “Operation Never Mind”, and finishing up with the potent finality of “Blackberry Winter”.

In the chorus of “If It Don’t Bleed”, McMurtry sings “I can share my bread and wine, I come from another time”. Indeed, aging and the wisdom that comes with it is a common theme which pops up regularly throughout The Horses And The Hounds . This sense of gravitas carries McMurtry throughout this album as he casually excels at whatever musical corner he chooses to explore with each tune. It’s rarely flashy, but impressive nonetheless. Like some of his alt-country peers, McMurtry is able to believably cultivate the image of a dusty troubadour out of Western myth while also referencing spending time in Brooklyn “before it went hipster” in “Canola Fields” and off-handedly disparaging “Fox News fiction” in “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call”. In the deeply segmented modern USA, this sort of wide appeal to both rural and urban dwellers is a rare thing, and given its quality, this is an album which merits widespread attention. That said, there’s a long track record of McMurtry and his compatriots crafting great music and continuing to toil in the underground, so don’t hold your breath.



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user ratings (53)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is a total jam, listen if you like anything country/folk/Americana/alt-country/roots rock... You get the picture

Sowing
Moderator
August 24th 2021


43745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was hoping someone would review this, nice. This year hasn't had quite as many country jams for me compared to 2020, but this is great.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


2406 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think the country rap descriptor you use for ft Walton is a little misleading but I guess I can see why you’d say it



Amazing record as always

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@Sowing, yeah, this is probably the best country-related release for me this year, hasn't been quite as many releases of interest in this style for me either.



@Chan, it's certainly much more "spoken" vocals than rapping, but every time I hear that song (particularly the beginning) it gives me the impression of country-rap, so that's where it comes from

theBoneyKing
August 24th 2021


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Love this review, love this album, love McMurtry!



Don’t love this as much as Complicated Game, but it’s on par with most of his other material. A rewarding discog (which I still need to finish myself).

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Boney!



Great artist, I definitely need to spend more time with his back catalog. I'm much more familiar with some of his peers (like the ones mentioned in the review) than I am with a good chunk of his discography.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


2406 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah I know what you mean. I just don’t want it to scare people away lol because he’s so good and under appreciated.



Blackberry Winter is possibly my favorite song of the year so far

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@Chan, definitely get that, haha



Blackberry Winter is fantastic and rivals Jackie for my second favorite after Canola Fields. All three are quite high on my overall favorite 2021 songs.

Slex
August 24th 2021


16233 Comments


Have never listened to this dude before but a lot of people seem to be loving this, gotta check

Atari
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


27901 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

this must be good since there's a handful of my favorite people on Sput in this thread so far





theBoneyKing
August 24th 2021


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh it’s more than good!



“Jackie” is my fave so far.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@Slex, definitely check it! Curious to hear your thoughts.



Cheers @Atari! I suspect you'll enjoy this.

theBoneyKing
August 24th 2021


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Gotta say it’s really exciting to see (albeit a very small amount of) buzz for McMurtry here, I feel like Chan and I are the only ones who’ve been on him even though I’ve recced him to a bunch.

Sowing
Moderator
August 24th 2021


43745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is my first album of his. I was drawn in by the cover for some reason and then you and Chan both told me about it so I knew my interest wasn't misplaced.

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5358 Comments


oh god even more stuff to check out, this has to be the most overwhelming release week of the year jesus hecc
anyway yes i will check, sweet write up! in terms of 2021 country stuff i'm v excited for the new emily scott robinson

Winesburgohio
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


3866 Comments


i got turned onto him when Chan pointed out he's the son of one of my favourite authors, wild. looking forward to spinning this today! exc. rev.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


2406 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

He’s really addressing his mortality on this record. Hope this isn’t the last we get from him

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Jesper and Winesburg!



Looks like we've got a little hype train rolling.



@Chan, I hope so as well.

theBoneyKing
August 24th 2021


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Well, for what it’s worth, he’s adamant that his songs are not autobiographical at all. Obviously the things he thinking of will bleed into his work, but I wouldn’t sweat it too much. Though I also wouldn’t expect anything new in the next 5 years. More time to savor this!

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 25th 2021


5647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm thinking Canola Fields and Blackberry Winter are the best opener/closer duo of 2021, both are so damn great.



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