AUSTIN, Texas: James McMurtry spins stories with a poets pen (Long Island Sound) and a painters precision (She Loves Me). Proof: The acclaimed songwriters newComplicated Game. McMurtrys first collection in six years spotlights a craftsman in absolutely peak form as he turns from political toward personal (These Things Ive Come to Know, You Got to Me). The lyrical theme is mostly about relationships, McMurtry says. Its also a little about the big old world verses the poor little farmer or fisherman. I never make a conscious decision about what to write about.Complicated Gamedelivers McMurtrys trademark story songs time and again (Copper Canteen, Deavers Crossing), but the record brings a new (and certainly no less energetic) sonic approach. First, recall blistering beats and gnashing guitars from his magnum opusJust Us Kids(2008). Now, unplug. The label head wanted more acoustic, McMurtry explains. We built everything as we went so we ended up with more acoustic guitar as we went. We just played whatever sounded right for a given song, but we werent necessarily saying this is an acoustic record.Exhibit A: Howm I Gonna Find You Now. The records lead single boasts buoyant banjos and driving drums as endlessly energetic as anything electrified. Whiplash vocals further frenzy the beat. I've got a cup of black coffee so I don't get lazy/I've got a rattle in the dashboard driving me crazy, McMurtry effectively raps. If I hit it with my fist, itll quit for a little while/Gonna have to stop to smoke in another mile/Headed into town gonna meet you at the mercantile/Take you to the Sonic get you grinning like a crocodile.Such vibrant vignettes consistently turn heads. They have for a quarter century now. Clearly, hes only improving with time. James McMurtry is one of my very few favorite songwriters on Earth and these days he's working at the top of his game, says Americana all-star Jason Isbell. He has that rare gift of being able to make a listener laugh out loud at one line and choke up at the next. I dont think anybody writes better lyrics. James writes like he's lived a lifetime, echoes iconic roots rocker John Mellencamp. Yes. Spin South Dakota. Youll hear.Further evidence: McMurtrysJust Us Kids(2008) andChildish Things(2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched Americana Music Award nominations. Meanwhile,Childish Thingsscored endless critical praise and spent six full weeks topping the Americana Music Radio chart in 2005 and 2006. In 2006,Childish Thingswon the Americana Music Associations Album of the Year and We Cant Make It Here was named the rapidly rising organization's Song of the Year.