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Saint Mary Of The Woods


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Audio CD, April 17, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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After the more laid-back excursion of Walk Between the Raindrops, James McMurtry returns to the more raucous sound of his John Mellencamp-produced debut, Too Long in the Wasteland, and the follow-up, Candyland. Aided by the electric guitars of Stephen Bruton, David Grissom, and McMurtry himself, Saint Mary of the Woods rocks as much as it "folks." The talent for vividly painted, finely honed observations of rural life and interactive hearts that he inherited from his father (Larry, the novelist) has been augmented here by some diverse musical influences. "Lobo Town" borrows from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love," while the rhythm of his "Choctaw Bingo" lyrics can trace a direct lineage to Chuck Berry's "Maybellene." McMurtry also covers a Dave Alvin tune ("Dry River") and enlists composing help from bandmates and engineers. Rather than add up to a writer having creative problems, it appears here more like an egoless acceptance of inspiration where he finds it. It works. Saint Mary of the Woods is a fine addition to a first-rate catalog by a consistently excellent artist. --Michael Ross

1. Dry River
2. Valley Road
3. Saint Mary Of The Woods
4. Out Here In The Middle
5. Lobo Town
6. Broken Bed
7. Red Dress
8. Gulf Road
9. Gone To The Y
10. Choctaw Bingo

Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 17, 2002)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sugar Hill
  • ASIN: B00006IGUF
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,861 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By King of Rawk on February 10, 2003
Format: Audio CD
James never ceases to amaze me. Living in Austin and having the pleasure to occasionally talk with McMurtry, I can say that his remarkable songwriting is only exceeded by his extreem modesty. Saint Mary of the Woods isn't just a record, it paints a picture. It's like a novel in music form. The lyrics are thought provoking and the music is intelligently written. James seems to have this innate ability to write folk songs that, simply stated, rock. Unlike those many, many songwriters out their that call their music modern folk, when they are simply just doing boring rip-offs of their predicesors, McMurtry constantly reinvents the way folk music is to be viewed (or listened to that is) with every album, and Saint Mary of the Woods is no different. The title track of the album pretty much somes up the way I see McMurtry as a songwriter: complicated, yet so simple. I must add too that the production of this record is top notch.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 22, 2002
Format: Audio CD
McMurtry produces himself for the first time and the results are stunning. There's a brightness and an edge to these tunes about the impoverishment of the American landscape. Dave Alvin's "Dry River" sets the tone for the McMurtry originals that follow about a heartland given over to "bathtub speed" and "Starbucks--what else you need?" for "corporate relo refugees." In some ways it's "Levelland" without the poignancy. But as McMurtry's songs make clear, we live in far less poignant times. Don't get me wrong--there's beauty here: the title cut is haunting in its atmospheric evocation of the limitations of nostalgia.
I love McMurtry's work and had been wondering when we'd hear from him again. This one is worth the wait, indeed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ralph A. Weisheit on November 9, 2002
Format: Audio CD
McMurtry is a wonderful songwriter who is able to paint vivid images with an economy of words. I also marvel at his ability to capture phrases and ideas that reflect working-class rural middle America. His music, like his lyrics, is lean and has some jagged edges to it, but that's what makes it unique. I like the CD very much but particularly like Choctaw Bingo -- an 8 and 1/2 minute song about a (dysfunctional) family reunion, a song without repeating verses. It is a marvel of songwriting. Is this album his best? I think it ranks right up there and will be an album with lasting appeal. It is a pity that he is not more popular, but from a marketing perspective he is cursed by having a style that doesn't fit neatly into any single category -- it has elements of rock, folk, and country. While that may pose a marketing problem, many of us like his style precisely because it doesn't fit traditional categories.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John O'Connor on December 10, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Sometimes a song reaches out and grabs you... Choctaw Bingo did that to me. Within the first 30 seconds I was slapping my leg, laughing and imagining the characters in the song. James McMurtry has a way of doing that to you with his no nonsense songs that speak of life. Go for this album.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Greg Cleary on February 18, 2003
Format: Audio CD
After the slight letdown of "Walk Between the Raindrops," McMurtry waited four years to record his next album. The time off has done him some good. "St. Mary of the Woods" may not be in the same league as "Where'd You Hide the Body" or "Too Long in the Wasteland," but it is an improvement over its predecessor and holds its own with second-tier efforts like "Candyland" and "It Had to Happen." Yet somehow, comparisons are beside the point with McMurty, as each album offers a new set of characters, familiar yet unique.
"Saint Mary of the Woods" continues the trend toward darker, more fatalistic material. It begins with "Dry River," which sounds like the quintessential McMurty tune even though he didn't write it, with the narrator recalling childhood moments spent standing in a concrete-lined riverbed, dreaming that he's soaking wet. There is a constant juxtaposition of tradition with modernity. The people in these songs don't make moonshine--they cook up crystal meth and "bathtub speed."
McMurtry can sound bitter at times. "Red Dress" is the low point of the album, both musically and lyrically, as a particularly loathsome character spews out insults (including the old chestnut, "I'm drunk but you're ugly") accompanied by a monotonous two-chord riff. And the narrator of "Choctaw Bingo," an otherwise likeable and fun tune, reveals his true nature by crudely expressing his wish for a menage a trois with two of his second cousins. At such times, I wonder if McMurtry is going a little too far to bring his characters down. One thing's for sure: Nobody is going to accuse him of being cute. But he may be accused of being cynical at times.
Still, "St. Mary of the Woods" is an enjoyable album with a stronger, more consistent backbeat than any McMurtry album to date.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael M DiMauro on September 25, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Hmmm...poignancy. Good word. I know it usually refers to something sharp and clear, but I think it also refers to physical pain. In that sense, I think 'Saint Mary of the Woods' may be a little too poignant. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big JM fan, but I'm forcing myself to admit this album is a little disappointing. Maybe it just isn't what I was expecting. Or maybe a week of listening is too soon to judge. Still it seems much less insightful than his other standouts like 'Wasteland' and 'Where'd You Hide the Body,' and more coarse and vapid than any of his other albums.
'Saint Mary' seems to deal almost exclusively with the darker side of life; casual drug use, failed relationships, dreams unfulfilled, etc. I know, I know... it's nothing new for JM to paint with a dark palette, but I always thought he craftily managed to use the dark colors to accentuate the light. I don't see much light here. Just dark. I dunno...maybe I'm just missing it. The melodies and the riffs are pure McMurtry, but missing is the subtle, sardonic wit and wry wisecracks. In their place is just bitterness and, perhaps worse, cliches (I actually winced when I heard him use the tired, old 'I might be drunk but you're ugly' gag).
If you're a James McMurtry fan than this CD will be part of your collection, regardless. And rightfully so, since the worst McMurtry album is still better than 90% of everything else being released today. Heck, I think the track 'Choctaw Bingo' is worth the price of the CD alone. But If you're not yet a fan, make sure you pick up some of his other CDs first. McMurtry can be endearing, enticing, enigmatic, and even romantic. Just not on this album.
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