The protest songs on Just Us Kids, particularly ”Cheney’s Toy,” will hog all the attention, but they’re the least of this roots rocker’s treasures here. It’s James McMurtry’s brilliant character sketches that really shine — starting with the hilarious, poignant title track, which follows high school slackers through dotcom busts and divorce and middle-aged delinquency, as they wonder how their epic life wound up being such ”a damn short movie.” Or if great storytelling isn’t your bag, maybe it’s better just to sell you on his steamy Texas roadhouse-rumble sound, which is draw enough. A-DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear ”Freeway View” and the rest of the album on Amazon .
The further James McMurtry gets from the big leagues of the music business, the better it seems to be for his music. McMurtry was still finding his feet as a recording artist with his first three albums for Columbia, and just began hitting a groove when he signed with the independent Sugar Hill label. Now recording for a renegade start-up label called Lightning Rod Records, McMurtry has cut what may well be his best and most consistently interesting album to date, Just Us Kids, a dozen songs clearly informed by the American malaise of the first few years of the 21st century and the disillusion over the ongoing war in Iraq.
James McMurtry continues to count himself among the growing number of Texans not ready to make nice with the Bush administration, which ought to come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention. The veteran Austin singer-songwriter's original "God Bless America," with McMurtry snarling about the GOP and gasoline, has nothing to do with Irving Berlin's patriotic paean, while the blatantly political single "Cheney's Toy" doesn't require much exegesis at all. "You're the man that they're all afraid of," growl the seriously strident lyrics, addressed to President Bush, "but you're only Cheney's toy.