James McMurtry

One Eyed Jacks

May 18, 2007


The only thing connecting James McMurtry to country music when playing live are his woeful ballads and his labor class concerns. At One Eyed Jacks Friday night, vocalist/guitarist McMurtry and his bassist and drummer left the violin behind and turned up the volume. The live show was more rockin' and was more agitated than the records. McMurtry sneered spit through his teeth during "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," and he took some impressive and lengthy solos every once and a while. I didn't think of McMurtry as a lead guitarist, but he can nimble-be-quick with the best of them when given the space.

McMurtry is an americana/roots rocker from Austin known for his country life storytelling and the way he mixes blues, country, and funk. Funk? Funk. His band was so tight that the groove was always there. Even when talking about some depressing stuff, McMurtry's music made me wanna dance. The trio of road dogs looked like they were on auto-pilot, like even though they were putting some difficult, specific touches of color on the music, it came easy to them. An example of this color was the way his drummer's fag sticks danced on his floor tom during a moodier, more atmospheric song. The way the sticks moved revealed the talent the drummer had but wouldn't show off by night's end and his control and the care he had for the sound.

One highlight of the night was "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," especially since the lilywhite people McMurtry speaks about in the song seemed to actually show up at the show. They were a well-groomed, big night out, white shirt tucked into dockers group. An older group of possible Republicans, I wondered what they were getting out of a song where McMurtry indicts the president and an America wasting away on itself. Doesn't seem like the kinda stuff you boogie to, but like I said, the music can uplift while the lyrics bummer.

The other highlight was "Choctaw Bingo," a nine minute mountain of verses. This song steadily rocked along with a playfully syncopated vocal melody. The riff and vocal melody, when put together, were so enjoyable that before you knew it, the song was ending. Just like Dylan can do you.

I really enjoyed this show. His grizzled voice worked perfectly with his songs of grizzledness, and he was a better guitarist than I thought.

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