Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

James McMurtry: Complicated Game [Complicated Game, 2015]
McMurtry has the musical limitations you'd expect of a singer-songwriter whose loud declaratives pound away over a beat designed for a guy who "can't dance a lick." But this time you should definitely live with them--of the dozen songs on his first album since 2008, the two that are less than compelling come close, and half are superb. The struggling-class portraiture this Texan makes his specialty relocates to South Dakota, Virginia, Florida, and comfier Long Island, whence an Oklahoman salaryman reports: "When the 5:30 rush hits the Cross Island Parkway/It's not for the squeamish or the gentle of heart." One of the four love songs painfully rekindles an old flame, while the rest address a single fine piece of work: a handy bartender who writes better prose than the writer she loves and who, as per an agreement the writer never thought would go into effect, makes do with a Harley-riding parking lot attendant while he's away on tour. Two others reflect on the singer's existential inadequacies, including is a finale called "Cutter" I find less than compelling only when I can't feel the knife focusing the pain in one spot so I can get to sleep. A