Just Us Kids
Lightning Rod Records
By James Calemine
Austin, Texas, musician James McMurtry’s new CD--Just Us Kids--proves an uncompromising collection of 12 songs.
Years ago, McMurtry (son of literary legend Larry McMurtry-Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove) was involved in John Mellencamp’s film, Falling From Grace. McMurtry turned down a role in the film to finish the album he was recording at the time. Just Us Kids, McMurtry’s ninth CD—recorded in Austin--continues a venomous social commentary in his songwriting. McMurtry utilizes his band, The Heartless Bastards, on this record with a little help from his friends—Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Pat McDonald, John D. Graham and C.C. Adcock.
The Cajun grit of “Bayou Tortous” evokes a backwater electric hoedown. McMurtry’s guitar playing gets overshadowed by his lyrics, but his six-string skills emit a mean, vengeful sound. McMurtry’s sly humor peppers the crafty title track, while “God Bless America” contains an ironic message in its oil-fueled death march.
“Cheney’s Toy” should unsettle the hard-core Republicans. A true gem, this tune carries an electric-guitar attack that points a finger at the current administration:
“Another unknown soldier
Another lesson learned
Kick the gas can over
Strike a match, get back and
Watch that sucker burn
Keep smiling for the camera
Keep waving to the crowd
Don’t let up for an instant
Stay the course and make your mama proud
You’re the man, show ‘em what you’re made of
You’re no longer Daddy’s boy
You’re the man they’re all afraid of
But you’re only Cheney’s toy.”
The rollicking “Freeway View” was written in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a stark view of an interstate. Ian McLagan’s piano playing shines on this one. “Hurricane Party” portrays an older man caught a storm that coincides with his crossroads in life.
Recently, McMurtry spoke with Swampland about this record. When asked about “Hurricane Party” McMurtry replied: “A friend of mine was living in Myrtle Beach and actually played drums during the hurricane party. Sitting there, some guy was going to walk across the street to the next hurricane party. But a dumpster happened to get blown down between two buildings just as he was about to step out the door. He decided to stay where he was. I pictured someone older looking back on his life…”
McMurtry said “Ruby and Carlos” “came later in the session.” This song seems conjure images of tequila, cactus and long desert roads for a veteran living in Texas with memories of the middle east. The instrumental “Brief Intermission” proves a classic composition that could serve as an emotive soundtrack for some timeless film. McMurtry revealed this about the song: “I think that was the first thing we cut. We had the session booked, but we didn’t have any words, so we just went in and started playing it...”
“Fireline Road” emerges as a dark tale on the crystal-meth epidemic in Texas. “For a little while they had cocaine out there,” McMurtry explained. “After coke was no longer the hip drug in the cities, the country boys found out about it. Meth screws up your nerves worse. It strips something off your nerves. It’s damn near impossible to get off it. It hit Texas a little sooner than everywhere else. In Texas, there’s so much oil production and those rigs run 24-7. There’s a market for anything that keeps you awake. Of course, now there’s a big natural gas movement going on and that’s even crazier. They’re drilling deeper and deeper and the pressure is higher and higher and there’s more money. You get a bunch of guys all cranked out up there with big pieces of metal, somebody is going to die.”
McMurtry revealed “The Govenor”—a gritty, hard-rocking murder mystery--was sort of a “scrap-pile” song where he used different bits of discarded lines and hooks from other tunes that comprised this narrative track. The song “Ruins of the Realm” was the intended title of this release, but McMurtry explained his decision to go with Just Us Kids: “That was going to be the title of the album. But Americans glaze over if that’s the name of your record. So, I went back to Just Us Kids. I actually wrote that song in a totally different incarnation about eight years ago.”
The last track on Just Us Kids, “You’d a’ Thought”, stands as a weary reflection on old mistakes and new awakenings...past the point of no return. This album captures a spirit of the times. As Just Us Kids ends, you can almost smell the oil burning...