James McMurtry - Saint Mary of the Woods

James McMurtry
Saint Mary of the Woods

(Sugar Hill)

First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2002, Volume 9, #11

Written by John Metzger


"Pass judgement if you dare/See if any of us care," sings James McMurtry on the rowdy Lobo Town from his latest album Saint Mary of the Woods. It’s a lyric that pretty much sums up McMurtry’s attitude towards life. Forever flogged by his critics for what they deem a less than desirable voice — a ridiculous notion given that his deadpan delivery suits his dark tales of drunks, dope fiends, road warriors, outlaws, and outcasts just fine — McMurtry keeps trudging on, not really changing much in his tried and true songwriting formula.

That’s a good thing too, given McMurtry is one of those hidden gems from the American outback. Although his songs are all cut from the same cloth — one that mixes the brilliant, but quirky songwriting of Warren Zevon, the intellectually melodic musings of Bruce Cockburn, the urban glare of Lou Reed, the brutal electricity of Bob Dylan’s live performances, and the rural Texas swagger of The Flatlanders — McMurtry always gives them a fresh flavor and undeniable urgency.

Saint Mary of the Woods continues along this vein, equaling, if not building upon, what many consider to be his finest effort It Had to Happen. Most tracks — such as the gripping take on Dave Alvin’s Dry River or the cultural meltdown of Out Here in the Middle or the jilted lover’s tale Broken Bed — slowly build into an all-consuming, turbulent blur of guitars and percussion that matches the volcanic eruption of emotions contained in McMurtry’s lyrics. Indeed, he and his band are masters at pitting instrument against instrument to exploit and explore the tension within his story-songs. As a result, Saint Mary of the Woods is another superb affair, and although it never quite reaches transcendence, it often comes awfully close. starstarstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Dan Bern - New American Language

T Bone Burnett - Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett

Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind


Saint Mary of the Woods is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2002 The Music Box