Album Review: Curtis McMurtry – The Hornet’s Nest

Beautiful—a fitting descriptor for Curtis McMurtry’s sophomore release, The Hornet’s Nest—beautiful, yes, but accessible? That’s a different matter that requires its own, deeper investigation.

The Hornet’s Nest bears a humble Americana-style beginning with its spare, banjo-based “Hard Stone Blues,” but the record is filled with lush sonic landscapes featuring chamber orchestra parts, jazzy trumpet accompaniment, and lounge-style duets. These elements, reminiscent of a musical motion picture soundtrack, hearken back to a different time; admittedly, this is an album that requires attention and time spent savoring each song to understand the bigger picture. Of course, it is often said the best pieces of art take time to be truly appreciated.

Initially, the songs sound sparse, quiet, and mournful in exquisite ways. Each song is an intricate of puzzle whose pieces are surprising and continually revealed through repeated listens,  McMurtry’s composition talents are quite impressive for someone so young— snare hits replaced with snaps, acoustic runs that mimic the barely audible vocal parts blended with significant background instrumentation evidence an ear and imagination that have forged some of the most stunning moments of musicianship this writer has heard in recent years.

“I know heaven can’t be better than your body next to mine,” he ruminates over banjo and smokey, muted trumpet, in the slow and sultry “Can’t Be Better.” Album standout “Wrong Inflection” features a playful back and forth between McMurtry and Diana Burgess (vocals/cello), followed by the lyrically impressive, and this writer’s favorite track, “Bayonet,” the tale of a man living in fear of facing his wife after the loss of their child. The sadness is not born out of wrong-doing, but rather out of the despair and damage the child’s loss brought to their lives and relationship. The realistic sadness captured in this well-imagined narrative place the listener in the moment with the protagonist.

While this album caught me off guard, and took a few listens for me to truly appreciate, I have grown to thoroughly enjoy it; its imaginative lyrics delivered in McMurtry’s melancholy vocal style supported by creative and carefully intricate arrangements easily make this one of the most interesting albums of the year.

Purchase The Hornet’s Nest

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