With Steve Earle holed up in New York, decking about in the cultural melting pot, mixing country, folk, and not so hip, hop; John Fogerty wallowing in 'his legacy' with the self reverential (the last refuge of a scoundrel) Revival, a reactionary disappointment that was worthy of a name change to John 'old Fogy' ty. Bruce Springsteen is still lost in the stodge and bloat of Brendan O'Brian's production, and the old master Dylan moribund by the most inept lumbering road band he has ever employed.
Dylan is now more skilled at playing records than making them and there is a huge vacancy waiting to filled: singer/poet required, must speak with the voice of the working man, must be resigned, angry and insightful, must be able to write memorable melodies and be able to scourge and flail them with twisted, barbed, wired, guitar, oh, and did I mention being able to write great choruses?
Well, best get the 'no vacancy' sign out, because with Just Us Kids James McMurtry has filled the vacuum, building on the most overlooked back catalogue in what journalists call Americana, and Dave Alvin calls American Music, to challenge St Mary of the Woods as his career album. McMurtry wanted to title the album the Ruins of the Realm but was worried about the 'glazed look on peoples faces' when they found out the title. Ruins of the Realm might sum up the contents, but it is the people left trying to live their lives in the ruined realm that McMurtry portrays with such graphic compassion, and points out the reasons why: cause and effect that you can dance to. Musically this is McMurtry's finest hour, his whip smart road band enhanced by Ian McLagan who supplies avalanches of bar room piano that tumble over "Freeway View" his best work since the heyday of The Faces, and the evocative harp of Pat Macdonald
The opener, "Bayou Tortus" drops us neck deep, straight in the Green River of Bayou Country Creedence, swampy and threatening, lacerated by shards of CC Adcock's guitar, in fact there seems to be the ghost of the great Vietnam era C.C.R. all over this record, the howling harmonica and the graveyard train guitars of impending doom quashing any optimism or hope that McMurtry's characters might muster
The reflective title track "Just Us Kids," where the dreams of youth are vaporised in the quicksilver flash of a life passing, is told retrospectively from the view of somebody too old and too tired to do anything except get high: "Meanwhile I got a gram and a real good ride, don'tcha know I hurt way down inside".