Texas Music

James McMurtry's 10 Best Songs

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REWIND: James McMurtry Knows What Works by Now

In February, McMurtry will release his first studio album since 2008Complicated Game. "Carlisle's Haul" and "Copper Canteen," a pair of tracks he's been road-testing for awhile, make it clear that McMurtry hasn't lost his touch. But in his 25-plus-year career, these ten tunes (okay, 11) are arguably his finest:

10. "Childish Things" & "Just Us Kids" The biggest cop-out in compiling a top 10 list for a prolific artist is to begin with a tie for 10th. But these two songs, the title tracks of McMurtry's previous two studio albums, are so thematically linked that it seems acceptable to fudge a little.

In the latter, McMurtry's narrator wakes up to realize he's well into middle age and still acting like a teenage yahoo, while the former grudgingly accepts the inevitability of maturation and the responsibilities that come with it.

9. "Out Here in the Middle" The flyover states have several distinct advantages, as McMurtry articulates here. But they'd be a whole lot better if his lover were there to experience it all with him.

8. "Gulf Road" Heartbreaking, gorgeous and languidly paced, this is the rare McMurtry tune that eschews dry wit for a heavy shot of sincerity.

7. "Iolanthe" One of McMurtry's groovier numbers, the title itself is a reminder of how erudite he is. As both his father (Larry) and son (Curtis) exhibit as well, the shrewdest of genes sometimes wear jeans.

6. "Restless" By his own admission, this is McMurtry's most effective live number, an infinitely relatable, bouncy yarn about how tough it is for two people to truly connect.

5. "Peter Pan" Of a piece with "Just Us Kids," this tune grounds the fairy tale about a boy who doesn't want to grow up in a hell-raiser's reality. "I guess I really did it this time, mom" is something everybody's said at one time or another. Here, it's the featured fuckup's default gear.

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Mike Seely
Contact: Mike Seely