Record Bulletin

Record Bulletin, 3/18: Brandi Carlile – “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” and James McMurtry – “Complicated Game”

They Got to Me

Already starting to fall behind in my album posting and feel myself slipping into old habits. Hopefully I’ll find a little bit more time to dick around with new music.

brandi carlile firwatchers daughterBRANDI CARLILE – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (ATO): At first this sounds like a female version of Mumford & Sons (not a compliment, you fanciful flugelhorn enthusiasts), but the jangling, surging guitars give way to The Firewatcher’s Daughter’s first showstopper: the harmony-soaked country ballad about the chaos and turmoil lurking just outside love’s warm center, “The Eye.” See, attributing all credit to Bandi Carlile the person is like saying you love Rilo Kiley’s voice—it ignores that Brandi Carlile is a band (one comprised of our eponymous hero and the multi-talented Hanesroth twins) equal parts self-destructive paramours and  astute social landscape prognosticators: on “Maintstream Kid,” easily the best track here, they diagnose commercialism’s dilution of the subversive hip kid into a safe, consumable, emulous  product by IDing its motive: “I came to separate the classes / To place the fails above the passes / And there has never been a better time to set the bar beneath the masses.” Plain an observation as it might be, it’s not something folky types like the sheepherding M&S have ever thought before. A MINUS

James McMurtry Complicated GameJAMES MCMURTRY – Complicated Game (Complicated Game): Bespectacled Americana veteran McMurtry gives us his latest gallery of character portraits, blue-collar boys and girls from Louisiana to New England to wherever there’s a soldier’s home. Nothing here is as it seems thanks to the inter-lyrical play: “You Got to Me” reminisces about the flood of feelings a wedding brings on, even though the wife has long departed. The narrator of “She Loves Me” sounds sweet initially, before you realize his honey’s got another man on the side. A returning soldier’s ecstatic reaction to a discharge in “South Dakota” is mitigated by his older brother telling him “there ain’t much between the pole and South Dakota,” and that re-upping might not be the worst idea. McMurtry isn’t sure what to make of the new world, one where the prospect of a peaceful and prosperous small-town life appears ever direr. Then again, he’s not so amnesic that he forgot simple folks’ struggles aren’t newborn. They’ve been around a while, and he thinks it’s a gosh darn shame. A MINUS

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