It’s not the kind of music you’d necessarily put on at a party, but James McMurtry’s epic songs of relationships, politics and the injustices inherent in both make you think.
The lyrics are rarely sung, but rattled off in an angry recital type of way that can make the rhythms blend together in the casual ear. It’s careful listening that is rewarded with richly painted characters and intricate plots.
He started performing in his college years, in Arizona, before coming back home to Texas. A series of the usual odd-jobs later he entered and won a songwriting contest. Around the same time, John Mellencamp was working on a film with James’ father and he was able to get his demo tape heard. Mellencamp later produced James’ first album, Too Long In The Wasteland.
His more recent albums, Childish Things and Just Us Kids contain more direct political criticism for the current administration. Songs such as We Can’t Make It Here, Cheney’s Toy, and God Bless America have become favorites among fans due to the uncensored views and commentary. Other songs from “Just Us Kids” like the title song, Fire Line Road and Ruby and Carlos, examine various subjects: growing old, meth addiction and Gulf War Syndrome.
Older favorites include Saint Mary of the Woods, Red Dress, Lights of Cheyenne, I’m Not From Here, and Choctaw Bingo, a seven-minute story of the dysfunctional family reunion we’ve all had to attend at one point.
He’s currently based in Austin, and can be found most Wednesday evenings at the Continental Club with the Heartless Bastards (bassist Ronnie Johnson and drummer Daren Hess.)
Photo from the Boulder Theater, by Nichole Wagner