For his second album, singer-songwriter James McMurtry again went back into the studio with John Mellencamp as his producer and with Mellencamp’s backing band even more tightly poised. Candyland, from 1992, while still lyrically strong, looked to showcase McMurtry the heartland rocker. Lyrics are pruned and choruses are sharpened. Trilling organs and tougher guitars produce a wall of sound that McMurtry maneuvers with an experienced hand. Thematically McMurtry’s obsessed with how people pass the time and how happiness can be a state of oblivion more than a case of circumstance. The opening gambit, “Where’s Johnny” sets the tone, as a promising high-school academic and athlete succumbs to emotional disturbance and lives in his parents’ house past thirty, while the tract-housing occupants of the title tune sleepwalk with indifference. “Good Life” defines itself by mere survival. “Storekeeper” traces the bitterness of a successful shop owner who can’t empathize with his lowly customers’ plights. Like an American Ray Davies, McMurtry’s a sociologist working as a songwriter.

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