JAMES McMURTRY RELEASES COMPLICATED GAME,
HIS FIRST STUDIO ALBUM IN SIX YEARS

Celebrated tunesmith’s highly anticipated record an elegant
collection “mostly about relationships” and “the big old world”

AUSTIN, Texas: James McMurtry spins stories with a poet’s pen (“Long Island Sound”) and a painter’s precision (“She Loves Me”). Proof: The acclaimed songwriter’s newComplicated Game. McMurtry’s first collection in six years spotlights a craftsman in absolutely peak form as he turns from political toward personal (“These Things I’ve Come to Know,” “You Got to Me”). “The lyrical theme is mostly about relationships,” McMurtry says. “It’s also a little about the big old world verses the poor little farmer or fisherman. I never make a conscious decision about what to write about.”

Complicated Game delivers McMurtry’s trademark story songs time and again (“Copper Canteen,” “Deaver’s Crossing”), but the record brings a new (and certainly no less energetic) sonic approach. First, recall blistering beats and gnashing guitars from his magnum opus Just Us Kids (2008). Now, unplug. “The label head wanted more acoustic,” McMurtry explains. “We built everything as we went so we ended up with more acoustic guitar as we went. We just played whatever sounded right for a given song, but we weren’t necessarily saying this is an acoustic record.”

Exhibit A: “How’m I Gonna Find You Now.” The record’s lead single boasts buoyant banjos and driving drums as endlessly energetic as anything electrified. Whiplash vocals further frenzy the beat. “I’ve got a cup of black coffee so I don’t get lazy/I’ve got a rattle in the dashboard driving me crazy,” McMurtry effectively raps. “If I hit it with my fist, it’ll quit for a little while/Gonna have to stop to smoke in another mile/Headed into town gonna meet you at the mercantile/Take you to the Sonic get you grinning like a crocodile.”

Such vibrant vignettes consistently turn heads. They have for a quarter century now. Clearly, he’s only improving with time. “James McMurtry is one of my very few favorite songwriters on Earth and these days he’s working at the top of his game,” says Americana all-star Jason Isbell. “He has that rare gift of being able to make a listener laugh out loud at one line and choke up at the next. I don’t think anybody writes better lyrics.” “James writes like he’s lived a lifetime,” echoes iconic roots rocker John Mellencamp. Yes. Spin “South Dakota.” You’ll hear.

Further evidence: McMurtry’s Just Us Kids (2008) and Childish Things (2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched Americana Music Award nominations. Meanwhile, Childish Things scored endless critical praise and spent six full weeks topping the Americana Music Radio chart in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, Childish Things won the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year and “We Can’t Make It Here” was named the rapidly rising organization’s Song of the Year.

Of course, Complicated Game doubles down on literate storytelling longtime enthusiasts expect. Recall high watermarks past: “Childish Things,” “Choctaw Bingo,” “Peter Pan,” “Levelland,” and “Out Here in the Middle” only begin the list. (Yes, Robert Earl Keen covered those last two, “Levelland” remaining a live staple.) Just Us Kidsalone includes fan favorites “Hurricane Party,” “Ruby and Carlos” and “You’d a Thought.” High watermarks deliver equal measures depth and breadth and pierce hearts with sharp sociopolitical commentary (“Fireline Road”).

More history: McMurtry critically lauded first album Too Long in the Wasteland (1989) was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill Records. In 1996, McMurtry received a Grammy nomination for Long Form Music Video for Where’d You Hide the Body. Additionally, It Had to Happen (1997) received the American Indie Award for Best Americana Album.

In 2004, McMurtry released the universally lauded Live in Aught-Three on Compadre Records. The following year, Childish Things notched arguably his most critical praise, spending six weeks at No. 1 on the Americana Music Radio Chart in 2005 and 2006. In September 2006, Childish Things and “We Can’t Make It Here” won the Americana Music Awards for Album and Song of the Year, respectively. McMurtry received more Americana Music Award nominations for 2008’s Just Us Kids. This album marked his highest Billboard 200 chart position in more than nearly two decades.

In 2009, Live in Europe was released, capturing the McMurtry band’s first European tour and extraordinary live set. Along with seasoned band members Ronnie Johnson, Daren Hess, and Tim Holt, the disc features special guests Ian McLagan (The Faces) and Jon Dee Graham (True Believers, Skunks). Also, for the first time ever, video of the James McMurtry Band’s live performance is available on the included DVD.

The poignant lyrics of his immense catalog still ring true today. In 2011, “We Can’t Make It Here” was cited among The Nation’s “Best Protest Songs Ever.” “‘We Can’t Make It Here,’” Bob Lefsetz wrote, “has stood the test of time because of its unmitigated truth.”

McMurtry tours year round and consistently throws down unparalleled powerhouse performances. The Washington Post notes: “Much attention is paid to James McMurtry’s lyrics and rightfully so: He creates a novel’s worth of emotion and experience in four minutes of blisteringly stark couplets. What gets overlooked, however, is that he’s an accomplished rock guitar player … serious stuff, imparted by a singularly serious band.”

While best known for her stop-you-in-your-tracks voice, Liz has steadily developed a reputation as an accomplished songwriter, crafting intimately personal portraits through her music. Liz’s songs have won some of the most prestigious songwriting competitions in the country, including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Competition. With five albums to her name, Liz’s music has been featured on TV shows such as ABC’s “Beauty & The Beast”, Lifetime’s “Army Wives”, and MTV’s “Scream”. The latest release, ‘Weightless’, is the highly anticipated follow- up to Longley’s eponymous 2015 Sugar Hill Records debut, which earned accolades from critics, who proclaimed the album “a thing of beauty,” (Popdose), and praised her “captivating stories set to tunes that will be running through your head after a single spin.” (American Songwriter). Later this year, Liz is set to release her sixth album, produced by 5-time GRAMMY nominated producer, Paul Moak.

 

As a teenager, Scott picked up the bass guitar on a whim. Natural talent and the lure of a challenge drove him to be the best musician he could and discover his love for singing, songwriting and the upright bass. With the encouragement of his teacher, he went on to study music in college.

Scott moved to Nashville after school, and he would meet American music icon Ricky Skaggs and join his Grammy winning band, Kentucky Thunder. He toured with Ricky for five years, and in that time, first started writing songs on his upright bass.

He has shared the stage with some of the greatest artists of modern music, such as: Alison Krauss, Barry Gibb of the BeeGees, Bruce Hornsby, Brad Paisley, Peter Frampton, Steven Curtis Chapman, Emmylou Harris, Dave Barnes, Ben Rector, and many more.

Scott’s songs have received honors or been featured in NPR’S Tiny Desk Contest, the International Songwriting Competition, John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and American Songwriter Magazine’s 30th Anniversary Contest, and he has had numerous cuts on other artists’ albums.
He’s currently touring in support of his September release, Top Of The Stairs(EP), which was produced by himself, Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars, The Lone Bellow) Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Sarah Jarosz), and Shani Ghandi (Sarah Jarosz).

“This is a breakup album with myself…” says Sara Watkins of her third solo record, Young in All the Wrong Ways. Writing and recording these ten intensely soul-baring songs was a means for her to process and mark the last couple years, which have been transformative. “I looked around and realized that in many ways I wasn’t who or where I wanted to be. It’s been a process of letting go and leaving behind patterns and relationships and in some cases how I’ve considered myself. What these songs are documenting is the turmoil you feel when you know something has to change and you’re grappling with what that means. It means you’re losing something and moving forward into the unknown.”

 

That sense of possibility infuses the songs on Young in All the Wrong Ways with a fierce and flinty resolve, which makes this her most powerful and revealing album to date. In some ways it’s a vivid distillation of the omnivorous folk-pop-bluegrass-indie-everything-else Watkins made with Nickel Creek, yet she makes audacious jumps that push against expectations in unexpected ways. These songs contain some of the heaviest moments of her career, with eruptions of thrumming B3 organ and jagged electric guitar. But it’s also quiet, vulnerable, tenderhearted. In other words, bold in all the right ways.

 

Recently Watkins found herself without a manager at the same time she was leaving the label that released her first two solo albums. For many artists that might be the worst possible time to enter the studio, but working without a net invigorated Watkins. It was important for her to document this time in her life when she was between professional contracts: free from the weight of obligation to anyone but herself. In that regard the tumultuous title track sounds like the first song of the rest of her life. Her backing band create a violent clamor, with Jon Brion’s sharp stabs of electric guitar punctuating the din and Jay Bellerose’s explosive drumming ripping at the seams of the song. In the chaos, however, Watkins finds clarity: “I’ve got no time to look back, so I’m going to leave you here,” she sings, with new grit and fire in her voice. “I’m going out to see about my own frontier.”

 

Fittingly, Watkins wrote or co-wrote every song on Young in All the Wrong ways—a first for her. Her previous albums have featured well-chosen covers that compliment her own songs and showcase her interpretive abilities. “I love singing other people’s songs, and originally I did plan to have a couple of covers on the album. But as we were recording and getting a picture of how everything fit together, it became apparent that the covers really stood apart from the story that was taking shape. I felt like I just had a little bit more to say. Everything is coming from me, so there’s a unified perspective on this album that’s different from what I’ve done before.”

 

Some are lonely and quiet: “Like New Year’s Day” describes in careful detail a trip out to the desert, and the low-key arrangement echoes the reassuring isolation of the southwestern landscape. Other songs are more extroverted, their volume and energy a means to reach out to friends and colleagues. “Move Me” opens as a loping pop song, but soon explodes into a walloping rocker as Watkins demands, in a voice that strains against composure, “I want you to move me!” It’s a time-stopping performance: Janis Joplin by way of Fleetwood Mac.

 

“That song is about relationships that have gone stagnant, how sometimes we just go about the process of making small talk in order not to stir anything up,” she says. “But it’s sad when you can’t have a meaningful conversation with people after a while. Even if they hurt you, you just want to feel something from them. You don’t relate to each other the same way as you once did, so you have to decide if you’re going to invite this person further into your life or just move on.”

 

Watkins knew just the right people to bring these tough-minded songs to life. She corralled longtime friend and fellow fiddler Gabe Witcher to produce, then put together a band that includes two of Witcher’s fellow Punch Brothers: guitarist Chris Eldridge and bass player Paul Kowert. Providing harmonies on the title track are Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, Watkins’ bandmates in I’m With Her, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket provides a vocal foil on “One Last Time.” “I’ve known these guys for a long time, so there’s a personal trust as well as a musical trust. I was able to put my heart and soul into these performances, in a way that I don’t think I would be able to if I was in a room full of strangers. It allowed me to give myself over to some of these very personal thoughts that are in the lyrics.”

 

To say these are personal lyrics might be an understatement. They’re beyond personal, whether she’s confessing some long-held regret or gently consoling a friend. Young in All the Wrong Ways ends with “Tenderhearted,” a quietly assured song that Watkins wrote about a few of her heroes: women like her Grandmother Nordstrom who have weathered hard times with grace and have provided Watkins with examples of how to live her life. “They’re women who have endured so much yet emerged with love, strength and kindness. I remember someone saying, It’s so sad how much she’s had to go through. And I remember thinking, That’s why she’s such an incredible person. She faced all those trials and came out the other side.”

 

Watkins would never be so bold as to count herself in their company; instead, she aspires to follow their example. But Young in All the Wrong Ways does reveal an artist who has managed to transform her own turmoil into music that is beautiful and deeply moving: “God bless the tenderhearted,” she sings, “who let life overflow.”