Courtney Barnett and James McMurtry 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Milk!/Marathon Artists

File next to: Ex Hex, Angel Olsen, Parquet Courts

By some accounts, Courtney Barnett's first album was A Sea of Split Peas, in which the Melbourne, Australia folk-rocker combined two informal and funny EPs released only in Oz. But record execs will insist that Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is her proper debut. She has turned the launch into a garage-rock party, sticking with slower folk-blues on occasion, but more often sporting a blistering sound. Tracks like "Depreston," which she performed on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, are straight-ahead cowboy rock tunes. But when Barnett lets loose on a song like "Pedestrian at Best," she's like an ADHD Dylan circa Highway 61. Other tracks, like "Debbie Downer," pull out the Farfisa organ and heavy beats, mimicking 1966 Top 40 radio. Barnett deserves to take America by storm, and she'll prove it during open slots on the upcoming Decemberists tour. Don't miss this debut release, even if it's not really a debut. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge James McMurtry

James McMurtry

Complicated Game

Complicated Game Records

File next to: John Prine, Guy Clark

As befits an album from the son of novelist Larry McMurtry, Complicated Game is like listening to a collection of short stories. One of the best lyricists working in any style of music, James McMurtry has penned a dozen songs rooted in time, place and the heart, for this first studio album in seven years. "Carlisle's Haul" is about kids helping out a fisherman illegally bring in the nets, a song rooted in a teenage experience on the Chesapeake Bay. "Long Island Sound" is a fiddle-enhanced sing-along about a Texan transplanted to New York. Other stories go inside McMurtry's characters, most painfully in the album's closer "Cutter," about making a small but deep cut to isolate the pain of a troubled life. Produced by swamp-popper C.C. Adcock and Mike Napolitano, Complicated Game is an acoustic-based effort, largely driven by McMurtry's strummed guitar. A little energy boost wouldn't have hurt — just one song, the banjo-driven, near-spoken road story "How'm I Gonna Find You Now" has an electric drive — but the acoustic settings are still perfect for McMurtry's songs and the stories they tell. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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