Today marks the anniversary of the Texas Revolution; on this day in 1836 the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed and the Republic of Texas was declared. Hard to think about the history of Texas without mentioning Larry McMurtry, who has used Texas for the setting of so many famous novels and screenplays like The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove. But when a music fan is asked to name Larry’s single greatest gift to the world, the obvious answer is his son, James.
(Yep, that’s how my mind works when the coffee hasn’t quite kicked in.)
Like his father, James McMurtry is a great storyteller. His characters are fully realized, and his stories are rich with passion and heart, where the listener or reader can immediately succumb to the storyline, the aura and the moral pulse of the journey. These are tales of desperation and joy and failure and broken promises and faith, people on a journey who might be forging through a tough time or reminiscing about a lost opportunity.
The magic is that no matter how different our lives might be, we are drawn in honestly and not through contrivance. Once there, we are immersed in that story from the inside, seeing the world through a different viewpoint. Sadly, when artists are able to do this so well and so often we take them for granted. James McMurtry is far from a household name; criminally underappreciated in the big scheme of things.
His recent live album is yet another document in a brilliant career, and for the first time there is authorized video of a McMurtry concert. I highly recommend the CD/DVD package Live In Europe…
Use whatever terminology you wish for his artistry, be it rebel Americana, spirited counterculture rock, or literate character-driven storytelling of the highest order. There are songwriters and there are storytellers, and then there are those few that consistently excel in both areas. He might be genetically driven to superior wordplay thanks to his famous author father and English teacher mother, but that six-string wrangling you hear comes only from a lifetime of letting Keith Richards and the like drill through your ears.
McMurtry’s vocal range is fairly limited, and his style is only moderately beyond the spoken word in cadence, but there’s no doubt about the passion behind the words. Few social observations pack the wallop that is “We Can’t Make It Here”, even when performed in countries where it does not apply. “We were hoping we’re not going to need this song much longer”, he says by way of introduction, “For now it stays in the set”.
Read the full review at PopMatters.
Give a listen at Amazon.
McMurtry writes a blog for Blurt called Wasteland Bait and Tackle