I'm not a big fan of country music. It's not that I don't like it, but after a while all the stuff they play on most country music stations sounds the same. and as a result I can't really distinguish between Reba Mcintyre and Tanya Tucker, or Clint Black and Garth Brooks. Well, okay, there's Willie Nelson and Bocephus. There's only three country bands I ever cared enough about to chase down their music, much less go to their shows, and one of those is James McMurtry.
You may have heard of his daddy, Larry; wrote a book that wound up as a popular TV miniseries once, and a bunch of others that didn't, but sold well enough. It seems Larry knew John Mellencamp and slipped him James' demo tape, and the rest, as they say, is history...at least in the sense that time passed and stuff happened, like Mellencamp co-producing James' debut album on Columbia, Too Long In The Wasteland. It's a good album. There's sad songs and funny songs, songs that tear at your heart and songs that just rock. I heard it for the first time on Austin City Limits not too long after the album came out; James was up there with his band playing the title song and just rocking that sucker HARD. It hit me right where I lived. I turned to the Mrs. and said "He's playing my song," but she didn't get it.
There followed a dogged search for the album, which was finally rewarded by finding the cassette, and more frustration in subsequent years because the Internet had not yet arrived to make finding and buying music easy, much less downloading it. In the years before the divorce I managed to collect CDs of his first five albums, and they all came in quite handy in that last horrible year...but I digress. What attracted me, and continues to do so, is McMurtry's awesome lyrical skills. He's not just singing a song, he's telling a story, and if you've spent any time out in the country, you probably know some of the people in those stories. Even the ones you might wish you didn't. Add to that some outstanding guitar skills and undeniable composing talent, and you've got yourself quite an act.
I've been fortunate enough to see him in concert once, back in 2002 when he was on tour to promote Saint Mary of the Woods; he was playing the Fine Line music cafe in downtown Minneapolis, and I managed to stump down there on my gimpy leg for the show. The small venue seemed to suit him, although the lack of dancing by folks seemed to bother him a bit.
In recent years, he's gotten somewhat of a reputation as a protest singer after "We Can't Make It Here" and "Cheney's Toy", only the first one of which I've heard. Just hope he doesn't bury the music under the politics; that'd be a shame, because it's some fine music.
- Too Long In The Wasteland (1989)
- Candyland (1992)
- Where'd You Hide The Body (1995)
- It Had To Happen (1997)
- Walk Between The Raindrops (1998)
- St. Mary Of The Woods (2002)
- Live In Aught-Three (2004)
- Childish Things (2005)
- Best Of The Sugar Hill Years (2007)
- Just Us Kids (2008)
Live In Europe (2009)