Picks and Pans Review: Too Long in the Wasteland

updated 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

James McMurtry

It's enough to restore your faith in human nature. While any success this album has will inevitably eat into his populist rock constituency, John Cougar Mellencamp not only produced this album but also lent McMurtry most of his band—notably drummer Kenny Aronoff, who (with fellow percussionist Jerry Deupree) kicks things back into gear when the pace lags.

The Fort Worth, Texas-born McMurtry is a distanced character with a voice as dry as a desert wind and a sense of humor a couple of levels drier. He wrote all the tunes on this outsider-looking-in album, typified by "I'm Not from Here": "I'm not from here/ But people tell me/ It's not like it used to be/ They say I should've been here/ Back about 10 years/ Before it got ruined by folks like me." On the title track, McMurtry takes a moving look at a frittered-away life: "I hadn't intended/ To break the rules/ But whiskey don't make liars/ It just makes fools/ So I didn't mean to say it/ But I meant what I said."

James, novelist-screenwriter Larry McMurtry's son, stylistically echoes everyone from Pete Seeger, John Prine and Harry Chapin to Springsteen, Mellencamp and Dylan. The Dylan similarities aren't happy; McMurtry's voice tends to sink into a buzzy drone. In fact this project might have been best served if Mellencamp had recorded the tunes himself. There's an element of style, however, in the way he is graciously making way for a younger generation, and it's not as if the 27-year-old McMurtry will make anyone's eardrums shrivel up. Indeed, his voice actually grows easier to take, and his songs hit home right off the bat. (Columbia)

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