John Swenson Reviews "I Will Never Be Alone In This Land" for Stereophile Magazine

ALEX MCMURRAY / Will Never Be Alone In This Land Threadhead THR00051 (CD). 2012. Carlo Nuccio, prod.; Jacques DeLatourBy John Swenson, December 2012 stereophile.com
Alex McMurray is the linchpin of one of the most vibrant music scenes in contemporary America: the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. This bohemian paradise has its own fringe festival, Chaz Fest, run by the enter-prising McMurray, who plays with the Tin Men, Happy Talk Band, and the Valparaiso Men's Chorus. While his versatile, genre-defying guitar work is a prized asset in local sessions—McMurray is one of the core players at Bywater's recording mecca, Piety Street Studios—his greatest strength is his songwriting. McMurray's compositional imagina-tion seems boundless. He covers as wide a stylistic range as any contempo-rary writer, matching cleverly turned lyrics and story songs with durable melodies and a structural vision that leads to many of his songs having surprise musical twists that match the words' intricacy. "I was tall in the saddle, sick in the soul," he writes in the surrealistic "The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." This syncopated shuffle rides along on a loping sequence of guitar fills that brings the narrator to this nonchalant observation: "String me up or cut me down / it's all the same to me." What really concerns him? "Bury me not in a mohair suit." In a deadpan as droll as Randy Newman's, he boasts, "I was the fastest gun west of Tarzana," a line that might leave you scratching your head if it weren't so cleverly unaf-fected. Whether it's the lamentation in waltz time of "Texas Again," the Peter Gunn—inspired garage rock of "Otis at the Wheel," the mellow gospel-style meditation of the title track, or the frantic brass-band breakdown "Me and My Bad Luck," we're hearing a true original work his magic. —John Swenson