James McMurtry

James McMurtry

James McMurtry

Childish Things/ Live in Aught-Three

Lightning Rod Records

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in
Should I hate ’em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
Their shit don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
Their kids won’t bleed in their damn little war
And we can’t make it here anymore
— “We Can’t Make it Here,” Childish Things.

James McMurtry released that song in 2005, and seeing how things have slid even further into the shit since then, it’s a good thing Lightning Rod Records has re-mastered and re-released these two examples of pissed-off American songwriting at its finest. The son of Western novelist Larry McMurtry, James McMurtry does that most difficult, and in this day and age, most needed of things: he speaks the truth. The wary Texas native has been critically acclaimed for years (Stephen King calls him “the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation”), and fierce he is. Be it taking on the fat cats in “We Can’t Make it Here” or laying the dysfunctional family of “Choctaw Bingo” bare, he speaks with wisdom, humor, and love, but never sugar coats the message. McMurtry knows people, and he speaks to their dreams, their pain, and their foibles with equal measure of compassion and credulity when needed:

Flatter than a tabletop
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition one

— “Levelland”

Live in Aught-Three is both a great live album as well as a good introduction to McMurtry if you’ve not been paying attention along the way. Featuring classics such as “Saint Mary of the Woods,” “No More Buffalo,” and a great version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues,” McMurtry and his crackerjack band put you at the bar of a Texas roadhouse, longneck in hand, and let her rip. A man this wise backed by a band this good is almost too much to ask for, but the proof is in the grooves. If there ever was a time that called for a poet of the people, it’s now. And as Woody Guthrie did a generation ago, James McMurtry sings from the bottom looking up. It might not be pretty — the truth seldom is — but it sure as hell is necessary.

James McMurtry: www.jamesmcmurtry.com

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