Just Us Kids

The title track may lament the fact that even arrested adolescents grow old, but, if anything, James McMurtry sounds more energized than ever. On Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod), he and his longtime rhythm section—Daren Hess, Ronnie Johnson—have solidified their sound into a low, tribal rock growl, with McMurtry’s fierce guitar work leading the way. The Austinite doesn’t couch his tales in metaphor; he tends to come right out and say what’s on his mind. This might seem a ham-fisted approach in the hands of a lesser talent, but McMurtry knows how to tell a story. The music just helps thicken the stew. Buoyed by the success of his 2005 single, “We Can’t Make It Here,” which tapped into a wellspring of societal discontent, Kids’ politically minded tunes (“God Bless America,” “Cheney’s Toy”) follow suit. While they don’t make their point quite as eloquently, they don’t play like forced sequels either. Still better are the all-too-human characters that populate “Hurricane Party,” “Bayou Tortous,” “Ruby and Carlos,” “Freeway View,” and “Fire Line Road”; you’ll not only get to know them, but you’ll find them hard to leave behind.

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