McMurtry has storytelling in his bones. He's the son of novelist Larry McMurtry and the spiritual heir to the Texas-troubadour tradition embodied by Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Reed built his career vowing to bring literary themes into rock & roll; McMurtry merges his traditional tales of dysfunctional characters searching for their co-dependents with Reed's specific attention to tonal perfection. Whereas Reed's losers are city dwellers, McMurtry's live out in the middle of the country (though for McMurtry, the middle happens to be Texas). Despite his adherence to the Texas singer/songwriter form of basic blues and folk chord changes with simple melodic variations, McMurtry is concentrating harder on the sound of his records than do any of his peers and forebears, with the possible exception of Joe Ely. This record is the culmination of a career spent looking for a way to bring that city sound to the country.
McMurtry (most likely with assistance from sideman extraordinaire David Grissom) has managed to duplicate the electric discharge of Reed's tone, giving it a little twang and a bit of a syncopated jump. His band, which includes erstwhile Small Face Ian McLagen, sounds every bit as assertive and explosive. Turn up the volume, and let them dance all over your head. Of course, none of this would matter if the songs weren't any good, and at least two -- a brooding rendition of Dave Alvin's "Dry River" and the twisted Chuck Berry-and-Bo Diddley-head-to-Hazzard County masterpiece "Choctaw Bingo" -- are among the best things you'll hear this year. But even the lesser songs, the ones with clichéd drifters and not-quite-developed metaphors, benefit from the urgently seductive feel of the music. This record will knock you down and caress your ears, and you'll beg for more.