DIARY - 27/2/13 - JAMES MCMURTRY CD REVIEWS
CHILDISH THINGS (Compadre-Didgeridoo)
JAMES MCMURTRY - RADIO KING FOR STEPHEN
"There's a Vietnam vet with a cardboard sign/ sitting there on the
left turn line/ flag on his wheelchair flapping in the breeze/ one leg
missing and both hands free." - We Can't Make It Here - James
King downloaded James McMurtry's latest marathon narrative from his web
page, pre-release, and played it on high rotation on his Maine radio station.
you might say here in the unlucky radio country where the genre is
relegated to community corrals.
Well, We Can't Make It Here expires at a tick over seven minutes
and King reckons his listeners can hang on for the ads.
"Stark and wrenchingly direct, this may be the best American
protest song since Bob Dylan's Masters of War," King wrote
of the epic that links collateral damage of wars of mass distraction,
factory closures and sending work offshore to slaves of the new millennia.
Sounds familiar with our citrus farmers and other agrarians taking
a bath and foreign spivs unable to sort the wheat from the criminal
chaff in Iraq and beyond.
course, it takes that long to spin a yarn of that calibre - a sibling
of sorts to Choctaw Bingo that parodied poverty driving rural rejects
to run speed labs.
Texan McMurtry, now 50, sang a longer version at George Dubya's front
porch protest HQ at Camp Casey but hasn't donned Steve Earle's flack jacket
for all of his eighth album Childish Things.
The singer, then rooting for his little literary mate Kinky Friedman to
take up gubernatorial duties in Bush's former digs, leaves his foe with
a message "get out of that limo, look us in the eye/ call us on the
cell phone, tell us all why."
James previously covered The Kinkster's Wild Man From Borneo on
his 1997 album It Had To Happen.
McMurtry - son of author-screenwriter Larry - is realistic enough to know
that, unlike in many countries, he's unlikely to be shot for exercising
his freedom of speech.
The singer kept his Ford pick-up but quit membership of the NRA and based
his song on a Marine from New Jersey steel town Allentown, once celebrated
"Mike Hoffman lived every aspect of my song," McMurtry revealed.
"He was from Allentown. The major industry was Bethlehem Steel and
Mack Truck. By the time he got out of high school both of them were cutting
back and there were no jobs. So he rolled the dice and joined the Marines.
He figured he could get out before the next war.
He had two days left, literally, when he was told they were all going
"He survived that, and when he got home Bethlehem declared bankruptcy.
His father had worked for them his whole life and had a host of health
problems from breathing that stuff.
Now Bethlehem's folded up and he's got no benefits. And that's the song."
you up in Pocatello/ in some truck stop parking lot/ out beside that burned
up Volvo/ with the smoking engine shot." - Pocatello - James McMurtry.
spreads his genes with son Curtis, 14, guesting on sax, on entrée
See The Elephant and singing sculptor Terry Allen's son Bukka
on organ on title track.
The singer daubs his songs with credible characters from his travels
- the drifter in Six Year Drought, a trucker dreaming of
an historic hitchhiker in Pocatello, escape from Charlemagne's
Home Town and dangers of a déjà vu duo in Peter
Case's Old Part Of Town.
But, like fellow Texan Robert Earl Keen, he brings the family in
whimsy of Memorial Day and finale Holiday.
no refried rock distorted guitars to muddy the messages.
axeman David Grissom guests on Bad Enough, Joe Ely adds vocals
to old Slew Foot and the late Champ Hood's son Warren beefs up
the country feel with tasteful fiddle.
The title track is inspired by Corinthians 13:11.
"Aunt Clara kept her Bible/ right next to the phone in case she needs
I keep mine in the passenger seat on trips to the city to read at traffic
lights or to sub-continent call centre chappies at home.
LIVE IN AUGHT THREE (COMPADRE-DIDGERIDOO)
Slayton's got his Texas pride/ back in the thickets with his Asian bride/
he's got a Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow/ he still makes whiskey
cause he still knows how/ he plays that Choctaw Bingo every Friday night/
you know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why." - Choctaw
Bingo - James McMurtry.
enjoyed his famous dad Larry's southern books and telemovies and
now have a snapshot of the music career of Texan troubadour James
Junior explores the Lone Star state Badlands and way beyond on this
McMurtry tosses his bandits and backwoods moonshiners turned speed
lab fiends into a bucolic blender that seeps into the listener's psyche
in Choctaw Bingo and Out Here In The Middle.
The telescopic Texan and his riveting road band The Heartless Bastards
leave no turn un-stoned in this 13 song live disc cut in 2003 at concerts
everywhere but Texas.
This is James
seventh album in his 16-year recording career and sleeper of 2004 - perfect
New Year gift.
Those characters drawn by McMurtry are no figments of imagination - they
live, love and die out where the buses don't run in the Texas wilderness.
Texas Monthly magazine often runs exposes of hillbillies waging war with
cops and the DEA.
But few artists, except Adam Carroll, Steve Earle and James McMurtry,
sang of it until recently.
"That's what's happening out in the country and nobody's writing
about it," James, 42, revealed when he launched this dynamic disc
with his band - bassist Ronnie Johnson and drummer Darren Hess.
McMurtry's trio inject his lyrics into an aural bed that rocks and twangs
with equal passion at venues in Salt Lake City, Utah, Asheville, North
Carolina, Nashville and Wichita, Kansas.
LARRY LITERARY TRADITION
owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala/ caught a great big ol' blue
cat on a driftin' jug line/ sells his hard wood timber to the chippin'
mill/ cooks that crystal meth cause the shine don't sell/ he cooks that
crystal meth because the shine don't sell/ you know he likes that money
he don't mind the smell." - Choctaw Bingo - James McMurtry.
in my dad's neck of the woods (Archer City), they're busting speed
labs all the time," James revealed.
"I don't know what it is about hillbillies but they love to
go out in the woods and make something illegal. They fear jail less
McMurtry digs beneath the dry Texas landscape to expose rough edges
of these desperadoes on a song covered by the Redneck Mother creator
and mentor Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Pa Larry may have turned this study of neighbours into a mini-series
or maybe a mere novel like Lonesome Dove.
now 76, wrote The Last Picture Show and 1975 Terms Of
Endearment - both later Oscar winning movies - and co-wrote
the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.
novels adapted to movies included Texasville, The Evening Star, Horseman
Passing By (Hud), Leaving Cheyenne (Loving Molly), and the mini-series
Streets Of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk and Johnson's War.
But James personalises his white trash tale into song premiered on previous
disc Saint Mary of the Woods - that title track is the entrée
on this gem lost in the sands of 2004 until rescued by Australian label
Old moonshiners have truly passed their batons to outlaws on a back road
James inherited literary genes from novelist lecturer dad Larry and mother
Josephine - also an English professor.
He was born in Fort Worth in 1962 but his parents split when he was just
two and his mother taught him guitar at seven.
His folks led parallel lives - in 1969 they both took teaching jobs in
James tells his concert audience he wrote Levelland - one of several
songs covered by Robert Earl Keen - about Floydada but it didn't fit the
He wrote it for a communist friend Max Crawford.
"Flatter than a table top, makes you wonder why they stopped here,"
he sings of the Texas Panhandle city without pity, "wagon must have
lost a wheel, or they lacked ambition."
In Max's Theorem he adds that Max said: "a good old boy can
become an intellectual but an intellectual can't become a good old boy."
McMurtry reaches way back for grand-maternal ode 60 Acres, I'm Not
From Here and embryonic album title track Too Long In The Wasteland.
He introduces social comment tune No More Buffalo with a droll
comment - used to think "I was an artist but realise I'm just a beer
James developed writing during an Arizona university stint and used literary
licence to write Lights of Cheyenne "even though I never lived
in Wyoming but travelled through there before."
Out Here In The Middle, key to his Texas triangle, is littered
with Haggard imagery - "amber waves of grain" spliced with "bathtubs
The brilliant lyricist of life on the edge is humble on creative sources.
"Songwriting is like fishing," he says, "it's fun when
they're biting. I don't write until I feel like writing. That may be detrimental.
I sit in front of my computer, open files and look."
And when there's nothing fresh on the screen he tries a fitting finale
- the late Texan Townes Van Zandt's oft-covered Rex's Blues.
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