Born and raised in Austin, Curtis McMurtry is following to some extent in his father, Americana stalwart James’s musical footsteps. Pops himself is the son of writer/screenwriter Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, and Brokeback Mountain). The Hornet’s Nest is Curtis’s second album, a follow-up to 2014’s Respectable Enemy. You might say the youngster has a lot to live up to!
After honing his craft in Nashville, McMurtry III perhaps surprisingly explores the world in a gentle folk meets bluegrass meets jazz style. There’s more of New Orleans in the mix than there is any Tennessee mountain home. Loves Me More is an early highlight – an up-tempo yet noir, gypsy swing vibe admonishing the other guy who didn’t get Curtis’s girl. Retro is very much the order of the day throughout the record, McMurtry’s sound is anchored somewhere in the 1940s. Bayonet has all the hallmarks of a traditional folk song such as Scarborough Fair; McMurtry mourning the collapse of a relationship, yet still armed and watchful to protect himself from further emotional injury. The Hornet’s Nest is essentially a musical suite – standout tracks are hard to pinpoint within a collection so consistent in topic and style. If I Leave is perhaps the most poppy within the low glow, with one or two major chord stanzas therein, yet the subject matter stays true to theme – the looming collapse of a relationship .Splashes of cello, trumpet, clarinet and banjo colour the thirteen tracks, enriching the tales of life’s losses and bittersweet victories. The supporting harmony vocals of Diana Burgess are a particular treat; they boost McMurtry’s gentle, plaintive voice where the songs require.
Without the merest hint of twang, bombast or swagger; the power lies here in the subtlety of song craft that McMurtry excels in.