SAINT MARY OF THE WOODS
Austin singer/songwriter James McMurtry often pens sad-but-sweet tales about hard-luck losers, alcoholics, ugly breakups and busted dreams. Nothing too wild or TV-news-ish, though—his characters don't usually die or off themselves like you'd expect because McMurtry wants you to believe they're the folks who live among us and may even be us, scraping out semblances of lives no matter how fucked everything is. So familiar is McMurtry's lyrical turf that he had to go to Dave Alvin to cheer up, which is why the guy in "Dry River," the leadoff cut, believes he'll fall in love again even while he's moaning about the woman who didn't love him back. After that, we venture into a series of place-name-packed stories, the sort of fictions whose plot lines would be criminal to give away but need to be knicked a bit just because the lines are so great: "We got justification for wealth and greed/Amber waves of grain and bathtub speed/Now we even got Starbucks, what else you need?" "Two hundred channels on a big TV/Won't fill the holes inside of me." "Throwin' dice and dippin' snuff/Out in a trailer back in the brush/Sippin' Crown and smokin' weed/Huntin' hogs and cookin' speed" (meth seems to be the hot topic). The only clunker is "Choctaw Bingo," an eight-and-a-half-minute ramble/rant that merely misses because it comes off like a crazy uncle trying to explain his past to you in detail, all the while revealing that he doesn't remember much of anything, not even his own damn name. But the music that's swathed all over Saint Mary—a beautifully crunchy mix of amped-up, Austin-styled folk, blues, country and Ian McLagan's juicy Hammond organ—makes those tiny frustrations feel petty. Pain and suffering are never pretty, but McMurtry at least makes them bearable. (Rich Kane)
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