Too Long In The Wasteland

James McMurtry

CBS Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


James McMurtry didn't need help with his talent, or with his heritage. His hard-edged musical character sketches come as a direct legacy of his father, novelist Larry McMurtry. However, like most musicians, he needed a break; he got it when his father wrote a script for a movie starring and directed by John Mellencamp, Falling From Gracemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 . John met James, John heard James play, and the rest is history. The direct result was his 1989 debut CD, Too Long In The Wasteland.

McMurtry is, plain and simple, brilliant on this CD. Unlike most debut CDs, right out of the gate he tells you what he wants to say, with no bull and no subterfuge. McMurtry can say more in five words than most artists can say in an album, a talent he shares with only a few other artists (Harry Chapin, Bruce Springsteen, and Mellencamp himself come to mind).

The musicianship on Too Long is excellent; not surprising, since most of the artists (including drummer Kenny Aronoff and guitarists David Grissom and Larry Crane) had played together as Mellencamp's backing band. But this isn't a CD full of ringers; the accent is on McMurtry's laconic, dry, and expressive vocals and chiming acoustic guitar. The production and engineering is superior, keeping it recording clean and uncluttered.

Then, then there are the songs. McMurtry writes songs like some people throw daggers; each one is razor sharp, forceful, and nails its target cleanly. From the opening lines of "Painting By Numbers" ("'Cause you're painting by numbers // connecting the dots // they don't have to tell you // you don't call the shots // you jump when they say jump // and you don't ask how high // cause painting by numbers, they know you'll get by…") McMurtry paints unflinching portraits of moments caught in time, people caught in circumstance, and shattered dreams.

Highlights include the damning indictment of "Terry"; the lost moment caught in ice of "Outskirts"; the rollicking "I'm Not From Here"; the bitter and poignant "Poor Lost Soul"; and, perhaps best of all, the gentle, wistful, and sad love song "Angeline".

James McMurtry is one of the greatest artists in American music today, and Too Long In The Wasteland was a brilliant debut. Check it out.

Rating: A

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