James McMurtry, "Complicated Game" (Complicated Game)

James McMurtry, "Complicated Game" (Complicated Game)

For the sharply drawn characters portrayed on "Complicated Game," life is an uphill battle, even in a fishing boat.

James McMurtry's first release in six years is peopled with struggling crabbers, farmers, hunters and Long Islanders. The album title also the name of McMurtry's new label sums up their situations, and his eye for detail makes their stories fascinating, whether the topic is a relationship in need of repair, self-inflicted wounds or caring for cows.

Taut lyrics are nothing new for McMurtry, but he has switched up the sonics a bit, setting aside his electric guitar for more varied arrangements. "Forgotten Coast" would play in a tiki bar; "Ain't Got a Place" is framed with two drummers; and "She Loves Me" includes finger-snapping and doo-wop backing vocals.

Not that McMurtry's going soft; his lyrics make nearly every song seem like the blues.