The Hornet’s Nest
Growing up with a famously creative family most likely is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, your own impulses for creating art are nourished by the environment, but on the other hand, your stuff better hold up to scrutiny or your family is gonna call you out. For Curtis McMurtry, whose grandfather is Larry McMurtry, the legendary author of The Lonesome Dove and other Western-themed novels and his father, acerbic songwriter James McMurtry, can’t be anything but pleased with McMurtry second album The Hornet’s Nest.
Right off the bat, McMurtry takes his art far afield from his birthplace of Austin – no cow-punching giddyups here. He plays guitar, banjo and uke on the record, where he’s joined by Diana Burgess (Mother Falcon) on cello, upright bassist Taylor Turner (Magia Negra), Nathan Calzada on trumpet, Evan Kaspar on pedal steel, Mike Meadows on percussion, and bass clarinet by Claire Trowbridge. They meld into a form of chamber music that fans of Andrew Bird will appreciate, with McMurtry’s lyrical gifts cutting to the bone on moments such as “Loves Me More”- “I never meant to start a war/It’s not my fault she loves me more than you”- think Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) acoustic, with some playful cello/guitar interaction. Or the gypsy jazz style of “Wrong Infection” with Calzada’s trumpet and Burgess duet vocals racing.
The album’s 13 songs are reflections on the human spirit- in all its foibles, cruelty and reinvention, and sonically it’s one of the most pleasing, artfully arranged records in recent memory. I’m betting his family really likes it. And you will too.