Welcome a new generation of Texas troubadour, and not just because of the familiar surname. On the self-released The Hornet’s Nest (out February 24), Curtis McMurtry quickly distances himself from the “son of James, grandson of Larry” expectations, through the light lilt of his voice, the wry sensuality of his lyricism and the breath of fresh air of his accompaniment. The music never sounds rootsy or retro in a conventional sense, yet somehow accommodates ragtime banjo, chamber cello, a muted trumpet, bass clarinet, pedal steel and upright bass.
And the songs are a match for the singularity of the ensemble, very smart stuff, poetic in the best sense of the term, whether confessing to the amorality of lust on “Loves Me More” (“You knew I was a snake/So of course I’m gonna bite you”), floating through the world-weariness of love’s aftermath on “Rebecca” (“It all fell apart/But it happened so slowly”) like a reborn Chet Baker, or offering a young man’s ode to love as passionate as it is fleeing on “Together For Now.”
The second album by McMurtry shows its conceptual ambition in the way it coheres, exploring a range of emotions through a variety of personae. From the vulnerable innocence of the opening “Hard Blue Stones” through the corpse picked clean on the closing “Silver World,” the 13-song cycle shimmers through the desires and flaws of a shared humanity. The artist merits his “Shot at the Title,” as the penultimate track suggests, but already recognizes that such careerist accomplishment is just “carving your name in the sand.”